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This is the second time I have seen this show, which is based on the 1992 film of the same name starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. When I saw it in 2015 (review here) Zoe Birkett played the role of Rachel Marron; on this occasion Jennlee Shallow tackled the part and it’s safe to say she was an outstanding success.

A brief recap of the story for anyone who is not familiar – Rachel Marron is the world’s biggest singing star, but has become the target of a deranged and calculating stalker. Frank Farmer is the bodyguard hired to look after her, although neither Rachel doesn’t want him there, and Frank doesn’t want the job. They are initially disdainful of each other, but their relationship start to grow and Frank realises that his feelings for Rachel are getting in the way of his job.

The show literally opens with a bang – a gunshot rings out and you see two men caught in a standoff, before the spectacular opening number, Queen of the Night. The show plunges the audience right into Rachel’s world with this song – the fire, the costumes, the dancing, gets you into the mood immediately.

The musical numbers are of course the real attraction of the show – Shallow has a great voice and uses it to full effect; for me, the ballads are the more enjoyable songs. Run To You, All at Once, One Moment in Time and I Have Nothing, are all beautiful and brought a lump to my throat.

Frank was played by the gorgeous Benoit Marechal, who brought the perfect amount of gentlemanliness and reticence to the role – his karaoke rendition of I Will Always Love You, was a comedic highlight in a show packed with drama. Micha Richardson played Rachel’s sister Nikki, always eclipsed by her younger, famous sibling, and harbouring an unrequited desire for Frank. The stalker was played with menace by Phil Atkinson, and there are six young boys playing Rachel’s son Fletcher – on this occasion Caleb Williams took the role and stole the audience’s hearts.

Just a fantastic show which has drama, laughter, amazing singing and dancing – for me this will be one that I will see every time it comes around and I highly recommend it.

 

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The Blurb:

Every few Sundays, Anna and her extended family and friends get together for lunch. They talk, they laugh, they bicker, they eat too much. Sometimes the important stuff is left unsaid, other times it’s said in the wrong way.

Sitting between her ex-husband and her new lover, Anna is coming to terms with an unexpected pregnancy at the age of forty. Also at the table are her ageing grandmother, her promiscuous sister, her flamboyantly gay brother and a memory too terrible to contemplate.

Until, that is, a letter arrives from the person Anna scarred all those years ago. Can Anna reconcile her painful past with her uncertain future?

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My Thoughts:

I am in two minds about this book. First of all, I listened to it as an audiobook and the narration by Karen Cass was excellent. Secondly, I really liked the format of the book – each chapter revolves around a different meeting of the Sunday Lunch Club – the Piper family take it in turns to host – and the menu for each gathering is at the top of the chapter. From the events of the each ‘club’ meeting, it becomes clear what has happened between chapters.

However, I was a bit put off by the obvious attempt to shoehorn as many social issues into the story as possible. It was so obviously politically correct that it got a bit tiresome (to clarify, I have no issue with political correctness but there were so many instances crammed in here that it felt very deliberately done). The ending was predictable and I was waiting for a particular twist that never came.

I wouldn’t say it was awful but just a bit too treacly for me. Nonetheless it helped pass time while I was out on some long runs.

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Year of first publication: 2018

Genre: Family, drama

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The Blurb:

Imagine you meet a man, spend seven glorious days together, and fall in love. And it’s mutual: you’ve never been so certain of anything.

So when he leaves for a long-booked holiday and promises to call from the airport, you have no cause to doubt him.

But he doesn’t call.

Your friends tell you to forget him, but you know they’re wrong: something must have happened; there must be a reason for his silence.

What do you do when you finally discover you’re right? That there is a reason – and that reason is the one thing you didn’t share with each other?

The truth.

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My thoughts: 

This was an audiobook which I listened to mainly while running. In all honesty, I think the cover art and the title are a bit misleading (the original title was ‘Ghosted’ which I think was better, but anyway…) in that they give the impression that this book is chicklit, which it actually isn’t.

I did enjoy this book a lot. I liked both Sarah and Eddie, and also Sarah’s friends Tommy and Jo. I don’t think it’s spoilery to say that there’s a twist, but I am not going to give any clues about what it is. Suffice to say that I didn’t guess it at all, and thought it was very cleverly done. But this is not a thriller, it’s more a drama which centres around the sort of thing that has happened to almost everyone at one time or another.

My only criticism is that I think the ending was slightly drawn out, and could have been a bit ‘tighter’. Overall though, a nice story, well written. I would definitely read or listen to more by Rosie Walsh. Credit also to Katherine Press, who did an excellent job of the narration).

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Year of first publication: 2018

Genre: Drama, romance

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American comedy about a college female acapella group called Barden Bellas. When rebellious Beca starts at the college she is not interested in making friends, but her great singing voice leads her to join the group which is made up of popular girls, bitchy girls, and other girls who would never have been friends otherwise (and are barely friends anyway). Story features on the quest to win a prestigious competition, their rivalry with male acapella group the Treblemakers.

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Year of release: 2012

Director: Jason Moore

Writers: Mickey Rapkin (book), Kay Cannon

Main cast: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Adam Devine, Skylar Astin, Ben Platt, Ester Dean, Hana Mae Lee

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Genre: Comedy

Highlights: Rebel Wilson steals the show! Also the Treblemakers are really really good!!

Lowlights: None really. Possibly aimed at a more youthful market than this viewer, but overall lots of fun

Overall: Definitely worth a watch if you want a feel-good comedy

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Set across two different timelines, this is the story of Henry Lee and the girl he loved and lost…

In 1986, Henry is walking past the Panama Hotel in Seattle when he learns that a large amount of items which had been stashed there by Japanese American families, who were on their way to internment camps during WWII, have been discovered in the basement of the building. As Henry sees a distinctive parasol, he is reminded of Keiko, the Japanese girl who was his first love.

My thoughts

I really expected and wanted to like this book, so I am a bit disappointed to say that I found it…underwhelming. I can’t say that I actively disliked it, but it never really grabbed me. The historical parts – about Japanese residents in the USA being moved to internment camps (supposedly for their own safety, but everyone knows that it was because Japan fought against America in WWII – although most of those put in the camps were as American as anyone else) were fascinating to read about, but I didn’t feel like the characters themselves were ever well enough described for me to invest in them or to care too much about them – there was little characterisation and I never really got to ‘know’ them.

The writing itself felt almost like the wind of writing aimed at a child – simple and never very in-depth. were it not for the subject matter, this almost would feel like it was aimed at children, especially compared to other fiction books written about WWII.

So overall, the story itself gets a thumbs up for me, but the execution of said story….not so much a thumbs down as a thumbs sideways. Ho hum.

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emma

This was always going to be an interesting read for me in one sense or another. This books is a new version of Jane Austen’s Emma (a modernisation of each Austen novel was written for a Harper Collins series and this was the third of that series). Emma is not only my favourite Austen novel, but quite possibly my favourite novel of all time by any writer. I’m always intrigued by book and film remakes/reboots/reimaginings/retellings or the numerous other re-whatevers that are around so I sorted of looked forward to reading this, while also approaching with some trepidation.

Anyway…to condense the storyline for anyone who is not familiar, Emma Woodhouse is a privileged young lady who gets pleasure from trying to organise her friends lives and relationships, and fancies herself as an expert matchmaker. However, her meddling is about to result in a few life lessons learned for Emma…

Honestly, having finished this book I am  not sure WHAT to make of it. I definitely didn’t hate it – McCall Smith has a gentle and genteel style of writing, which makes it easy reading, and this book more or less stays true to the original storyline. However, it never really sits well in the modern age. The characters still seem stuck in the original era, but whereas in Austen’s novel, there is sparkling wit and humour, and Emma seems quite a modern young lady, here she seems old-fashioned and something of a snob. Austen wrote that Emma was a heroine who nobody except herself would like (I actually love Emma’s character, flaws and all) and McCall Smith seems to have actually created this very Emma. There is nothing particularly warm about her, nothing to make the reader understand her or root for her, and attempts to remind us that it is set in the current day – mentions of modern technology, modern transport etc – do seem awkwardly shoehorned in, just to remind us that this is indeed a modern retelling. Thus, even if you take this as a novel on it’s own merits and try to block out thoughts of the original, it still doesn’t quite work.

I would have liked more Knightley in this one – he barely features – and less padding at the beginning; at almost 100 pages in and Harriet Smith still doesn’t warrant a mention!

So overall an interesting experience. I’m not disappointed that I read it, but I wouldn’t really recommend it to Austen lovers, unless like me, you’re curious to see how the story sits in a modern setting.

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For anyone who doesn’t know the story of Top Hat, it centres on Broadway sensation Jerry Travers, who falls hard for society girl Dale Tremont, and dances his way from Broadway to London to Venice in order to win her heart. A case of mistaken identity causes all sorts of problems, but there is so much fun to be had on the way.

Having seen and loved the 1935 film, and also seen the West End stage show production (on tour), I can safely say that this is one of my favourite musicals, because it’s impossible to watch it and not feel happy. The songs will make you smile, the storyline is both romantic and extremely funny, and the dancing is spectacular.

All of this means that it is no mean feat for an amateur dramatics company to take on, but South Staffs Musical Theatre Company have taken on many such productions in their long history and are never found wanting.

Watching it, I was mesmerised by Harry Simkin and Fiona Winning, who played Jerry and Dale (Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers famously played the roles in the film, and Tom Chambers debuted the role of Jerry when it was made into a stage musical). Simkin and Winning are 17 and 16 respectively, but you would think they had been singing and dancing for decades, such was their professionalism and obvious talent. I really felt as if I was watching two future stars.

Also must mention Dom Napier as Alberto Beddini, the wannabe rival for Dale’s heart, and John Wiley who played footman Bates. Both of these were in danger of stealing their scenes, and raised some huge laughs from the audience.

Overall, a wonderful show and another feather in the cap for the South Staffs Musical Theatre Company.

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