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This show opens with a voiceover warning people of a nervous disposition that platforms and white lycra are worn during this production. This somewhat sets the tone for the whole show – humour, colour, energy and of course some terrifically ABBA-esque costumes.

The storyline is simple enough – Sophie Sheridan and her mother Donna live in Greece. Sophie is getting married and wants to meet her father…the only problem is that she doesn’t know who her father is out of three potential candidates, so she invites all three without her mother’s knowledge. Naturally, chaos ensues as past memories are raked up. And when you throw together Donna’s best and oldest friends Rosie and Tanya, three men who have no idea why they have been invited to the wedding, and a host of young men and women, there is bound to be action, raunch and a little romance…

Accompanied by some of ABBA’s best known and loved songs – including Super Trouper, Take a Chance on Me, Lay All Your Love On Me, Money Money Money, Does Your Mother Know? and of course the title track – this is such a fantastically feel-good show that it did not surprise me one bit when there was a standing ovation at the end, with audience members dancing in the aisles.

Helen Hobson was great as Donna, and Gillian Hardie and Emma Clifford were wonderful as Rosie and Tanya respectively. In the performance I saw, Sophie was played by first understudy Blaise Colangelo, who was ideal for the part – so loveable and sweet. The three possible fathers were Sam played by Jon Boyden, Bill played by Christopher Hollis, and Harry played by Jamie Hogarth. Their three distinct characters were portrayed excellently.

I don’t see how anyone could fail to enjoy this show, and the beaming faces on the audience as they left the theatre were testament to what a wonderful time everyone had. If you get chance to see this production, do yourselves a favour and buy some tickets!

 

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Rachel and Jack met just a few months ago, but fell head over heels in love almost immediately, and are now expecting a baby. Then Rachel spots an email on Jack’s iPad, which causes her to question their relationship and slams home the fact that there is so much that they don’t know about each other and their past lives. She suspects that there is something bad in his history and goes on a hunt for the truth

As Rachel’s interest in the secret in Jack’s past turns to obsession, it becomes clear that she has a secret of her own, and both secrets could cause their fledgling relationship to crumble.

I really enjoyed this book. There is a dual storyline – the present day, and a year ago. In actual fact, not a lot actually happens in the present day storyline, which is largely concerned with Rachel’s search for the truth about Jack, and the toll it takes on their lives, while she also tries to come to terms with her own guilt about her history. For the reader, both Rachel’s history and Jack’s history are drip-fed throughout the book. If I’m honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what I thought about the ending (no spoilers here), but I think it was probably the most realistic ending for the storyline that preceded it.

Overall, I think this was a well written book – it certainly kept me hooked throughout – and I would definitely be interested in reading more by this author.

 

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I like to try and read a Christmas themed book at Christmas time, and having previously enjoyed ‘Love, Nina’ by Nina Stibbe, I was really happy to get my hands on this. Essentially it is a collection of observations, memories and a few short stories all – obviously – based around a Christmas theme.

Stibbe discusses such things as how to cook a turkey without it being dry (she has chops instead!), the art of Christmas gift giving, spending Christmas with your parents despite being well into adulthood and more. Just as in Love, Nina, she is an engaging and amusing narrator and provided lots of smiles and giggles while I was reading this.

It’s lighthearted and undemanding – I read it over two days but only because I was stretching it out – and because those two days were Christmas Day and Boxing Day and we had places to be – I would think that it would be an easy book to polish off in one sitting.

I will be keeping this book and revisiting it at future Christmas times. I definitely recommend it.

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Several thousand asteroids hit the UK and Britain is decimated. In the fallout, Ed Hill is separation from him wife and two children and he knows that his only chance of survival is to span the 550 miles that divides them. But with cities in ruins and no transport, he will have to run the distance. Together with a small group of survivors, Ed sets out on his long journey, with no idea of whether or not they will be successful…

On paper this book ticked all the right boxes for me – it’s post apocalyptic, it’s a dystopian novel (one of my favourite genres) and it’s set in the UK. And in many ways, it is a good read. Certainly it’s pacey and exciting – the story has twists and turns and it ket me interested,,,but for all that, I never really felt able to lose myself in it. I think the main reason is that I was not able to connect to the characters. It’s narrated by Ed himself, a lazy husband, giving the minimum amount of effort to his marriage and the raising of his children. He loves his family but he can’t be bothered to put himself out in any way for them. Only when he is faced with losing them forever does he realise how much they really mean to him. The other characters on his journey are basically a bunch of stereotypes, who we never really get to know beyond surface level and for that reason I didn’t really care what happened to any of them.

I did enjoy reading about the people they met on their journey – some good, some bad, some helpful, others with evil intentions, and the resourcefulness that Ed and his companions had to summon up in order to get out of certain situations. Overall though, while I can’t say that I actively dislike the book, I can’t say that it ever really struck much of a chord with me.

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The Hartes and The Golds have lived next door to each other for years. The two couples are best friends, and their children – Christopher and Emily – grew up together, and eventually fell in love. Life is seemingly idyllic for the families, until the night where Emily is killed from a gunshot to the head, and Chris tells his parents that it was a suicide pact gone wrong. Neither family wants to believe this could have happened and both want to know the truth. But as the police investigation begins, both sets of parents have to question how well they really knew their children at all.

As is almost always the case with Jodi Picoult, this book is compelling reading, and held my interest throughout. There are two timelines – the one in the past which builds up the history of Chris and Emily’s relationship, and the one in the present day, which focuses on the police investigation and the discovery of what really happened that fateful night.

As it transpired, I actually found myself disliking both sets of parents and feeling more sympathy towards the Chris and Emily – Emily in particular, not only because she dies at the very start of the story, but also because she actually seemed the most likeable character of all. I did enjoy the character of Jordan McAfee, Chris’s attorney and his assistant Selena. I was not particularly able to warm to Chris but I had to remind myself that he was a privileged (read, spoiled) teenager, going through an incredibly tough process. There were a few things that jarred with me – Emily’s mother Melanie mistakenly believes at one point that her new neighbours are a gay couple and wonders what kind of neighbourhood she and her family have moved to. I’m not sure if this was meant to be a reflection upon the character of Melanie herself however, I also felt that Emily and Chris were almost pushed together because it was what their parents’ wanted, not necessarily what they themselves might have wanted.

Nonetheless, if you want a story that moves along at a good pace, despite alternate chapters set in different timelines, and one that that will keep you guessing as well as presenting the reader with a moral dilemma, then I would probably recommend this book. It’s not Picoult’s best (my own lowly opinion would rate that as the excellent Nineteen Minutes) but it’s still an absorbing story.

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In Amsterdam in the late 17th century, 18 year old Nella has been promised as a wife to successful merchant Johannes Brandt, but when she arrives at her new home, he is still away on business. Instead, she is met by his prickly sister Marin and staff Otto and Cornelia.

When Johannes does arrive home weeks later, things do not improve – he seems uninterested in being a husband to Nella, and there is constant tension simmering under the surface between all members of the household. Johannes presents Nella with a gift – a cabinet sized version of their house and instructions to furnish it. For the task, Nella engages a miniaturist to supply furniture for the small house, but the miniaturist sends much more – models of the inhabitants which seem to predict events in the future.

Who is the mysterious miniaturist, and how does she know so much about the Brandts? And what secrets lie within the walls of Nella’s new home?

It is difficult to say much more about the plot without giving away significant plot points. I will say however that I did really enjoy this book and can certainly understand the hype surrounding it’s release. The characters all seemed well drawn and believable, and if some of the events took me by surprise, with hindsight they were perhaps obvious and inevitable. Such is the skill of Jessie Burton’s writing however, that they only became so obvious once they had happened (if that makes sense).

Burton does have a lovely turn of phrase and a beautiful way of describing events and scenes, without being overly verbose. The story flowed well, even with the tense atmosphere throughout. The prologue was perfect once I reached the end of the book, and unlike many reviewers I was not disappointed in the ending at all.

Overall, this book gets a definite thumbs up from me and I have already bought Burton’s follow up novel, ‘The Muse’ on the strength of this.

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In 2004, during a weekend away for her father Sean’s 50th birthday celebrations, three year old Coco Jackson disappears – apparently taken from the house where she slept with her twin sister Ruby and other children in the middle of the night. A huge media campaign follows but Coco is never found.

Twelve years later, following the sudden death of Sean Jackson, the truth about what really happened on that weekend is slowly revealed as his family and friends prepare for his funeral.

I really enjoyed this book a lot. Psychological thrillers are a favourite genre of mine but they can also be a real let-down when they venture into the realms of the ridiculous. However, this book seemed actually plausible and I think that may have been due to the writing. And, sadly, possibly also due to the fact that there have been some high profile disappearances of children over the years. Alex Marwood is a journalist and I can’t help wondering if this case was at least inspired by one particularly famous child disappearance.

There is a dual storyline – the first part set in 2004 and told from the point of view of various characters. The truth of what happened is drip-fed bit by bit. The second part is set in 2016 and is narrated by Mila, one of Sean’s daughters from his first of four marriages. As Mila reconnects with Ruby, the twin sister of Coco, she revisits her own past and deals with her feelings about her father and the fragile ties that can bind a family together.

In any event, it’s an absorbing read. Sean Jackson is a deeply unlikeable, narcissistic and selfish character and indeed most of the adult characters in this story are the same. Pity the children who had the misfortune to be part of their families. Speaking of those children though, I did love Mila and enjoyed her character development. I also adored Ruby, who was entirely believable as both a typical teenager and a young girl who had had to live with survivor’s guilt her whole life.

As mentioned earlier, I did think that the final twist was pretty predictable, but there were still a few surprises along the way, and the writing was great and kept me reading on and on.

Overall I would highly recommend this book, and will definitely look out for more by Alex Marwood.

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