Amber Green Takes Manhattan


Rating: 3/5

Amber Green Takes Manhattan by Rosie Nixon is a fun tale featuring stylist Amber Green, who moves to New York with her tv producer boyfriend Rob after he is offered a job filming with the infamous Angel Wear lingerie models. The sudden relocation gives Amber the opportunity to reinvigorate her styling career, although her best intentions don’t go quite to plan. With unruly toddler photo shoots, fake designer handbag scams and an attention seeking Hollywood star adding to her list of woes, Amber’s dreams of becoming a successful celebrity stylist are failing to come to fruition any time soon. However, a former fashion designer might the answer to her problems. If only he wasn’t a complete disgrace in the fashion world…

Amber Green Takes Manhattan is a light romp and an ideal beach read this summer. While the story may literally be a case of style over substance, sometimes an easy read is a welcome escape from the hard hitting events that can dominate the news on a frequent basis. Much like tuning into a comedy show rather than a documentary or drama, light relief in the form of a novel like Amber Green Takes Manhattan can be a welcome break from reality at the end of the working day.

While I enjoyed the premise of the story, I did find it difficult to connect with the central character. At times, Amber seemed weak, particularly in the way that she defined herself by her relationship status and allowed herself to be plagued by ridiculous insecurities. However, she redeemed herself with an event that celebrated women and the transgender community and I would have been interested to see how the author could have developed this further. Although the book doesn’t explore any deep issues, it embraces empowerment and the female form. The timing of the book’s release on June 29th couldn’t be more perfect, as a key plot point in the story referring to Wonder Woman makes the book extremely current.

“They all stood there, a row of six women, joined together in a show of unity, sending the message that women, however they look, whatever their size or shape, their colour or their history, make an unstoppable force when standing shoulder to shoulder together.”

I must extend a huge thanks to Story HQ and Harper Collins UK for sending me an advanced copy of Amber Green Takes Manhattan. I was delighted when Phoebe from Midas PR contacted me through my blog asking if I would like to receive a copy. I love stories set in New York, so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to read this book. Although this book is a sequel to The Stylist, it does serve as a stand alone book. There are many references to events that appear to have unfolded in the previous novel, but they do not add to any confusion within the current story. Instead, it makes me curious to read the first novel!

Have you read Amber Green Takes Manhattan yet? Have you read its predecessor? Are you a fan of contemporary women’s fiction? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Hay Festival 2017

This year marks 30 years of the Hay Festival, a literary event that takes place in the picturesque town of Hay-on-wye in Wales. The festival has drawn a range of big names in the past, including Nobel Prize winners, scientists and politicians, as well as musicians and authors. The Hay Festival promotes diversity, cultural change and progressive thinking, which has led to its success as one of the UK’s top literary events.

This year’s event took place from May 25th-June 4th and I attended a variety of talks, which were equally enlightening and entertaining. I was lucky enough to receive VIP tickets from Anne of @addymanbooks to see Tom Daly, who was discussing his new recipe book Tom’s Daily Plan. My companion for the day was  @bee_andmy_barefoot_tribe and off we went on our exciting road trip. Once we arrived, we popped in to see Anne at the Addyman Annexe to pick up our tickets before heading off down to the main site. We indulged in a coffee and a quick look around before it was time for Tom’s talk. We had arranged to meet Anne in the artists’ area, where we spotted Stephen Fry casually sitting on a couch chatting with his companions! Once we met Anne and her friends, we received some delicious Prosecco before Graham Norton sat down at the table next to us with a jacket potato! It was quite an exciting start to the evening!

Soon we were escorted to our front row seats and became engrossed in Tom Daly, who proved to be an excellent and eloquent speaker. He discussed his love of food and how he took a cookery course during his teenage years. As an Olympian athlete, Tom clearly has the correct criteria to promote healthy eating and his recipe book is full of easy and fuss free recipes. He acknowledged his sweet tooth and is realistic about food habits, admitting to his love of cheesecake and cookies. He includes a range of desserts in his book and creates a healthy twist on some old favourites. He also addressed the issue of affordability and availability during his talk and stated that all of the ingredients for his recipes can be bought at any local shop rather than an expensive health food store. While I enjoy the latest craze for clean eating, I will admit that price can be a factor when it comes to some of the recipes in the healthy living recipe books that I currently own, so it was refreshing to hear that Tom recognised the need for recipes that don’t alienate a large proportion of the public.

As well as discussing food and fitness, Tom spoke at length about mindfulness and meditation. He highlighted the need for quality time for rest and relaxation and the importance of time management and achieving goals. He also gave an honest account about his struggles and disappointments during the 2012 Olympics and his ambitions for the next Olympic Games. He spoke openly about the death of his father and the contentment of being a newly wed was obvious on his face whenever he mentioned his husband Lance. He also took questions from the crowd, which consisted mainly of children who were looking for advice on juggling school and sport, as well as questioning him about the Olympics and his future plans. It was wonderful to hear so many intelligent questions from children of such a young age and Tom answered them all with careful and considerable thought. I enjoyed the talk so much more than I expected to and he came across as such a mature man considering he is only twenty-three years old. I went to get my book signed afterwards and Tom was so friendly and enthusiastic with everyone in the queue and it was a pleasure to meet him.

Afterwards, we strolled back to town and looked for somewhere to eat. We ended up at a pop up version of Herefordshire’s A Rule Of Tum and shared a juicy beef burger, falafel burger and a portion of chips for a very reasonable price. We were ravenous by that point and devoured our meal, which was delicious and a lovely way to end the evening.

I returned to Hay-on-wye the following weekend and had a reunion with @dannii.elle.reads who I met at the @bookstagramhay Meet Up a few months ago. Hay-on-wye is the kind of town where you don’t even need to arrange a place or time to meet up because you know you will just bump into each other, which is precisely what we did at the @haycastletrust. It was great to catch up again with Dannii as well as getting to meet her lovely family. Naturally, much of our conversation was book related and we also discussed our upcoming Mystery Meet weekend in London, which looks set to be another great Bookstagram Meet Up.

Afterwards, I went to see director Roger Michell, who was discussing his version of Daphne DuMaurier’s My Cousin Rachel. He was quite humble regarding film adaptations and admitted that the best adaptation will always be the one in the reader’s own imagination. He referred to the aspect of the unreliable narrator in the novel and how he emphasised this in the film. He also spoke about DuMaurier’s influence and inspiration while making the film and praised her body of work, describing her as ahead of her time regarding feminism and sexuality. He suggested that much of this was to do with DuMaurier’s own struggles with her sexuality and highlighted that perhaps the character of Rachel appears as a threat to the men in the novel simply because of her independence. I was lucky enough to meet the director after his talk as he was signing copies of DuMaurier’s book. I recently read the novel, which had me guessing until the very last page. I have since seen the film and I must admit that I much prefer the book.

In between events, I became drawn to a crowd gathered in one of the coffee shops on the site. It emerged that the live screening of the Bernie Sanders talk was taking place and so I stood with a coffee and became just as enthralled as the people around me. The talk was hosted by Welsh actor Michael Sheen and the topics of discussion had many people voicing and cheering their agreement. I could have stood there for hours listening to such an absorbing debate, but I managed to tear myself away for the next event.

World renowned violinist and child prodigy Min Kym was the next speaker on my itinerary and she did not disappoint. I received a copy of Min Kym’s memoir Gone at the @bookstagramhay Meet Up and I had happened to be reading it when I discovered that Min Kym was going to be speaking at the Hay Festival, so I just had to get a ticket. Gone is a fantastic book that tells of the theft of Kym’s violin at a train station café in London and how her life crumbles as a result. It is a story of loss and betrayal, but also hope and self-discovery.

Kym spoke in-depth about how much her life was affected by the theft of her beloved violin, a rare 1696 Stradivarius. The loss of her instrument left her feeling bereft and she described it as being akin to a death. While this may sound extreme, such strong emotions become clear upon reading Kym’s book. Kym’s violin becomes alive through her style of writing and feels like another character in the story. I enjoy classical music, but I would not claim to have an extensive range of knowledge in this genre. However, I learned so much about music from this book, which is informative without just reeling off facts and figures.

Kym read an extract from her book as well as treating us to some live performances, which were truly incredible. One performance moved me to tears, which I honestly did not expect. Kym became a completely different person when she performed, becoming immersed in the music as she played. Before her talk, I had expected a meek and mild character because of certain events in the book, but instead I discovered a bright and bubbly personality. I was lucky enough to meet Kym afterwards and get my book signed.

The evening ended with another catch up back at Addyman Books with Anne and I must extend a huge thanks to Anne for the Tom Daly tickets. It was the perfect start to a brilliant couple of weekends at the festival and I’m already looking forward to next year!

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman Trailer

Rating: 4/5

Wonder Woman has been one of my favourite characters ever since I’ve been a little girl. I used to watch the series on a Saturday morning and I recall spinning around just like my heroine in the hope that I too would turn into Wonder Woman. If only! The film adaptation has been many decades in fruition, with Sandra Bullock a possible casting contender in one concept. While I am still intrigued by the idea of one of my favourite actresses in this role, I’m pleased to say that the long wait for this movie has been worth it.

The film opens with a sly nod to the DC universe before moving to the hidden island of Themyscira, home of the Amazon warriors. Here, we are introduced to Diana as the sole child on the island, where she dreams of becoming a warrior just like the rest of the female only tribe. While her mother (Connie Nielson) and Queen of the island is reluctant for Diana to follow in her footsteps, her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) goes ahead and gives her private training on fighting tactics. Eventually, Queen Hippolyta relents once she discovers the secret lessons and hints at the mysterious origins behind Diana’s birth.

The catalyst for the movie’s events occur when spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) penetrates the shield protecting the island from the outside world by crashing in his plane. In a refreshing gender role reversal twist, he is rescued by Diana, who is no damsel in distress. Once Diana learns of World War I in the outside world, she is certain that it is the work of Ares, the god of war. She vows to defeat Ares by joining Steve on his mission and once she enters her unknown surroundings, her alter ego Diana Prince is born.


The casting of relative unknown Israeli Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is a more accurate incarnation of an Amazonian goddess and stays true to its comic book origins. Gadot excels in the role and is the epitome of what I hoped to find in this new version. The actress has a remarkable essence that displays all the traits of nobility, truth and morality required in a superhero, often seen in just her expressions and mannerisms. The moment that Wonder Woman finally springs into action and reveals her costume is the defining scene of the movie and sure to bring a thrill of excitement to every true fan.

Despite DC’s dark reputation, Wonder Woman is full of comedic touches, which enhances the enjoyment of the movie. Gadot and Pine provide much light relief with their banter, although the romance element of the story feels rather contrived. However, it is only a minor part of the plot and does prove to be an essential story device. Supporting actors include David Thewlis, Ewan Bremner and Lucy Davis, who is almost unrecognisable in her role as Steve’s secretary.

The historical setting is an interesting choice, yet remains relevant in this current climate, as well as highlighting many of the movie’s themes regarding humanity. The movie questions the darkness within man and the cruel nature of the human race and emphasises the injustices and atrocities committed throughout history, alluding to issues of race and immigration. Ultimately, the film spreads the positive message that only hope and love can truly save the world.

“I will fight, for those who can not fight for themselves.”

After her appearance in the poorly received Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the initial set up to Wonder Woman’s back story is complete in this film, paving the way for an exciting sequel. Director Patty Jenkins has confirmed that the next instalment will take place in the US. The movie has smashed box office records in its opening weekend and has been widely praised by critics and fans. To see a female heroine dominate the charts demonstrates the public’s demand for strong female characters. Wonder Woman’s kind traits show that she is a positive role model who deserves to rule the film world for many years to come.

Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies Trailer

***Minor spoilers ahead!***

Rating: 5/5

Big Little Lies opens with a mystery death before flashing back and forth between police interviews in the present day to how events unfold in the past. The catalyst of the story begins when the lives of Madeline Mackenzie (played by Reese Witherspoon) and newcomer Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) collide on their morning school run. After their initial meeting, Madeline takes Jane under her wing and introduces the young mother to her friend Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman). With Laura Dern and Zoe Kravitz completing the female ensemble, this show delivers a stellar leading cast.

As the story slowly reveals what has led to the mysterious events on the fateful night, we soon realise that all is not as it seems in these women’s lives. Initially, Madeline appears to have it all, including devoted husband Ed (Adam Scott) and father to their six-year-old daughter Chloe, and her teenage daughter Abigail from a previous partner. We soon learn that Madeline struggles with having her ex-husband Nathan Carlson (James Tupper) in her life, particularly as he is now married to the much younger Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz). To make family life even more complicated, Nathan and Bonnie’s daughter Skye is Chloe’s classmate, so their lives are intrinsically linked and running into each other every day is almost inevitable.

Jane’s son Ziggy becomes another classmate of the children and the topic of Ziggy’s father is one that Jane is reluctant to discuss. As her friendship between Madeline and Celeste grows, the disturbing details regarding Ziggy’s paternity are divulged by a distressed Jane. When Ziggy is accused of bullying Renata Klein’s (Laura Dern) daughter Annabella, Jane is forced to confront her past as lines are drawn between all the parents in the drama that is school politics.

Celeste is another character who appears to have the perfect life. A stay at home mom to twins Max and Josh, she is the envy of the community with her much younger husband Perry, played by the statuesque Alexander Skarsgard. Their idyllic lifestyle is soon revealed to be a mere illusion upon the discovery that Perry physically and emotionally abuses Celeste. Skarsgard plays Perry with such charm and charisma that completely contradict his true colours, which are revealed with such devastating and destructive force. I found myself flinching every time Celeste made an off the cuff remark that I knew would lead to another brutal beating. Perry’s transformation to such a menacing and sinister character was portrayed with such realism by Skarsgard through some horrific and harrowing scenes and the issue of domestic abuse appears to be depicted with overwhelming accuracy. Despite her former career as a corporate lawyer, Celeste continues to cover up her husband’s behaviour by telling herself that they simply have a passionate and fiery relationship.

“That’s the essence of the perfect marriage, isn’t it? The ability to lie.”

The story is set to the beautiful backdrop of Monterey, California with the ocean acting as a symbol for rebirth and redemption throughout the series. A fantastic soundtrack adds to the atmosphere and tension, often playing an intricate part of the storyline. Themes of loyalty, trust and fidelity are explored during the series and issues of domestic abuse, ageism, class and feminism are addressed throughout the show. Initially, I had presumed this was going to be a show about female rivalry, but the central core of the story actually celebrates female friendships and examines the challenges that women endure every day. Gender equality still remains a source of contention in and out of the workplace and women’s role in society is one that continues to be considered in this modern world. Big Little Lies highlights the difficulties that women face with juggling having a career and a family and questions whether women can really have it all.

The rights to Liane Moriarty’s successful novel were bought by book lover Reese Witherspoon and while initially considered as a movie adaptation, it was instead optioned for a television mini series spanning seven episodes. Big Little Lies is a fantastic drama and it’s not difficult to see why Witherspoon snapped it up for production. Witherspoon herself stated that she wanted to develop interesting characters, due to a lack of diverse roles for women in Hollywood. It was a clever move to adapt the book for television rather than the big screen, as it allows for more development of such complex characters. Television certainly seems to be undergoing a renaissance recently with A-list stars fluidly dabbling in dual roles on television and film. While television has experienced a golden age for the last decade or so for drawing big names back to the small screen, often it was the case of an actor returning to television because their movie career had stalled.

It is evident that is not the case here, with Witherspoon receiving another Academy Award nomination in recent years for her role in Wild, another book that she acquired the film rights to adapt. Nicole Kidman received yet another Oscar nomination this year for her role in Lion, while Shailene Woodley is at the pinnacle of her career. After playing the lead in the Divergent franchise, her role as the troubled Jane couldn’t be more of a different departure from her previous clean-cut role. Her latest character marks a significant career move as it has allowed her to transform from teen star into a serious dramatic actress. Woodley herself is an intriguing figure that refuses to conform to Hollywood standards. She has previously backpacked through Europe and appears to live quite a nomadic off the grid existence. She is a passionate advocate and speaker for environmental issues and displays a remarkable maturity and intelligence beyond her years.

Television is often a medium that is frowned upon, yet it is merely another form of storytelling in a more accessible way as well as having the ability to reach a much bigger audience. It stands rightly beside film, theatre, music, art  and books and connects and unites people often in a way that’s quite incredible. While the rise of Netflix and catch up has altered the dynamics of television somewhat, social media has enhanced the viewing experience with running commentaries and debates taking place online during live viewings of shows. Nowadays, television can become a collective experience and the world becomes a smaller place as a result.

I am now eagerly anticipating reading the Big Little Lies novel after binge watching the series. I admit that I did guess one part of the twist early on, yet somehow I put it to the back of my mind and forgot about it. So when the final reveal took place, I still gasped in shock. Witherspoon has recently announced that discussions are taking place about the possibility of a second series. As the novel is a stand alone story, it will be interesting to see what the creators have in mind for the these characters. Often it can be difficult to replicate the success of a show’s preceding first season. Let’s hope I am proved wrong! Have you seen or read Big Little Lies? Let me know what you thought of it!

Line Of Duty – Series 4


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUzQhOmroIY&sns=em

Rating: 5/5

***Please note: This review contains Series 4 spoilers!***

My Sunday night tv viewing is now devoid of good drama, after the end of Line of Duty last week. After a triumphant finale, this series is still being talked about a week later and, after much speculation, it has been confirmed that the programme will return for two more series. The news shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, considering the BBC had moved the show from its previous slot on BBC2 to its new home on BBC1 for Series 4. Such a move is always a clear indication of how much faith the BBC has in a show’s future and proved the right decision after last Sunday’s finale drew an average of 7.46 million viewers.

What a thrilling and gripping finale it turned out to be! I was literally on the edge of my seat, whilst in between hiding behind a cushion for some of the more excruciatingly tense moments. Considering I was new to the show, I quickly became invested in the story and its characters. Normally I am quite pedantic about my tv viewing habits and prefer to watch a show from its conception. Line Of Duty has been on my Netflix watch list for quite some time now, yet by chance I found myself watching the first episode of the fourth series with family. After that opening nerve-wracking cliffhanger, how could I not carry on watching such an exhilarating series?!

As a new viewer, Line Of Duty Series 4 felt like a fresh story and while there appeared to be hints of  the anticorruption unit’s work from the previous seasons, it was easy to follow what was going on regardless. I quickly grew to love the show’s central characters and equally despise its core villain. AC-12’s Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) and DC Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) provide the moral backbone of the series and a foil to the duplicitous DCI Roz Huntley (Thandie Newton).

Initially I was surprised to hear of the addition of Hollywood star Newton to such an already well established series. However, it wasn’t difficult to comprehend the actress taking on such a role after viewing just one episode. There’s not many characters that have me screaming at the tv! DCI Roz Huntley is one of the most manipulative and devious characters I’ve witnessed on tv recently and Newton played her with such complexity that I have no doubt she will be nominated for every television award possible this year.

I was delighted when Huntley received her comeuppance in the final episode, with justice being served at last for the murder of forensic investigator Timothy Ifield. Somehow though, Huntley  evoked a sense of sympathy and redemption by confessing to her crimes, as well as displaying decent detective work by cornering her own lawyer for his involvement in the Balaclava Man mystery.

The show didn’t shy away from issues such as gender inequality and it highlighted the difficulties women still face in their careers. DCI Roz Huntley appeared to be penalised for putting her family before her career for many years and severe pressure was placed on her to solve the case that resulted in her framing of Michael Farmer. Without a doubt, Huntley had to fight her way to the top of the career ladder and a ruthless streak appears to be deemed necessary in order to get ahead in such a male dominated industry.

When Kate was passed over for promotion in favour of her colleague Steve, the implication was evident that it was because of her gender. Then there was Jobsworth Jodie, one of the most irritating characters I’ve endured on tv lately. Clearly motivated by promotion prospects, she turned a blind eye to Huntley’s suspicious behaviour and divulged confidential information at any given opportunity. However, on a more positive note, times have moved on from the chauvinistic days of the past when women in the police force were merely deemed capable of menial tasks such as making tea, as showcased in the recent ITV Prime Suspect:1973 adaptation, a prequel exploring Jane Tennison’s early days in the police force.

Police procedural dramas are always a winning formula and Line Of Duty displayed an intelligence often not seen in other shows of the same genre, particularly when dealing with forensic details. Of course certain elements are still inaccurate, but there will always be some discrepancies for the sake of dramatic tension. Strong leading characters like Hastings, Fleming and Arnott have a dynamic on-screen chemistry and provide the heart of the story. The AC-12 team looks set to have their work cut out for them in the next series as they continue to uncover the mysteries of the conspiracy ring involving the Balaclava Men. While much of the loose ends were tied up in the finale, there is still the question of who H really is and there were plenty of teasers for what lays ahead in Series 5.

The success of Line Of Duty Series 4 demonstrates the importance of quality over quantity. The BBC is known for producing fantastic dramas and much of this success can be attributed to their formula of creating short series that span a few episodes compared to the standard US prime time tv network format of a 22-24 episode arc. This style often leads to a diminishing quality in a series and results in many ‘filler’ episodes. However, American cable television has been following a similar shorter format for a number of years and it looks like many of the prime time networks are coming to the realisation that a shorter narrative arc results in a more polished and improved story. With the BBC commissioning new adaptations of Little Women and The War of the Worlds, this golden era of television shows no sign of abating and long may it continue. In the meantime, I’ll be revisiting the rest of the Line Of Duty series!

Did you watch Line Of Duty? Have you seen all the series? Do you have any good tv recommendations? Don’t hesitate to get in touch and let me know!

Bookstagram Hay-on-wye Meet Up 2017

Recently, I attended the first Hay-on-wye Bookstagram Meet Up, which took place from 31st March-2nd April. This fantastic event was an idea conceived by Anne from Addyman Books and Ruth from Richard Booth’s Bookshop, which came into fruition with the aid of  Bookstagrammer Siobhan from @thehalycondaysofsummer. With Bookstagrammers visiting from all over the world, this event looked set to be the biggest Bookstagram meet up ever.

I turned up on the Friday evening for the welcome reception at Richard Booth’s Bookshop, nervously not knowing what to expect. I was given a warm welcome from Ruth, who ushered me over to a group of Bookstagrammers. I tried to mask my sudden shyness while I took in the flurry of new faces. I was quickly put at ease as I recognised Jude from @mybookbath and soon I realised how many bookstagrammers I knew already. If I remember correctly, the group included Kimberlee @reading.wanderwoman, Charlotte @what.i.read, Annie @2manybeautifulbooks, Dannii @dannii.elle.reads, Kerstin @lostinphrases, Micol @literaryjourney, Elke @meetpenguingirl and Gemma @gemkarita. The initial introductions became an amusing routine over the rest of the weekend as usernames were deemed necessary rather than actual names. The repeated suggestions of name tags for next year might prove to be ideal advice!

In between mingling, I listened to a book talk that evening at Richard Booth’s Bookshop. Author and journalist Oliver Balch gave a speech on Hay-on-wye and his experiences that inspired him to write his book Under the Tump: Sketches of Real Life on the Welsh Borders. Once the book talk was over, I joined a group of bookstagrammers for tapas. This group included Charlotte @pagesandplays, Dannii @dannii.elle.reads, Kerstin @lostinphrases, Charlotte @theroamingreader, Jack @that.english.guy.who.reads and Charlie @thebookboy. We discussed our top five books and I recall Harry Potter featuring on all of our lists!

Afterwards, we headed to The Old Electric Shop for a literary-themed cocktail evening. As I was driving, I could only indulge in the non-alcoholic cocktails, but they were still pretty tasty! Here, I introduced myself to Rima from @pardonmywritings, who was instantly warm and friendly. The first evening proved a success and was a brilliant indication of what was yet to come over the weekend.

On Saturday, I returned for a bookplate and printmaking demonstration by John Watson @johnwatsonprintmaker, which was held at The Globe At Hay. This was quite an interesting event as John hosted a demonstration of linocut printmaking and bookplate creation and we all received a special keepsake of the event. Here, I was delighted to meet the lovely Beth @beth.bonini, who gave me a huge hug and was even friendlier in person. Afterwards, I headed into town with Dannii and we watched a book themed fancy dress parade, which ended with a town gathering at the Honesty Bookshop in the Castle grounds. We took in the rest of the celebrations, which was marking the 40th Anniversary of Independence and included a ceremonial raising of the Hay Town flag.

We then returned to The Globe At Hay for the next event, which was a panel discussion chaired by Siobhan. The panel featured @pardonmywritings, @mybookbath, @literaryjourney and @what.i.read. These lovely ladies discussed how they began their Bookstagram accounts and gave insights into how they run their accounts, as well as providing some useful Bookstagram tips.

Just before the panel began, I had the excitement of meeting Elle from @theartfulelle. Elle was the first person who I became friendly with on Bookstagram and we greeted each other like old friends with a massive hug. Elle gifted me with a beautiful Boddington edition of Wuthering Heights, which is my favourite book. I will treasure this book, now proudly displayed on my bookshelves. I’m so grateful to Elle and it is heartwarming that people can be so kind and generous. After the panel discussion, I joined Elle, Emma @mistyangelofsky and Clare @literarianlife for tea and cake and we had a lovely afternoon gossiping about all things Bookstagram.

Later that evening, I bumped into Jude, Micol and Anne and we headed back to Addyman Books for after hours book browsing. I also popped over to Anne’s Murder and Mayhem bookshop, where I got to properly introduce myself to Agatha Christie fan Sahiba from @dumbwitnesses. Fittingly, I bumped into Sahiba by the Agatha Christie shelves as she was struggling to contain a bunch of Christies in her arms!

Many of us then headed back to The Old Electric Shop, where I got to have a great chat with Kelly @contraryreader, whose son Charley was instantly recognisable in his adorable Sherlock Holmes costume. Book lover Charley is often featured on the @addymanbooks account and it’s lovely to see someone so young showing such a healthy interest in books, as well as having such great reading taste!

In between catching up with Jude, Micol and Annie again at The Old Electric Shop, we were lucky enough to receive amazing goodie bags full of books from Siobhan. Inside mine was a beautiful edition of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky from Vintage Books, 99 Stories of God by Joy Williams from Serpent’s Tail, The Pirate Who Does Not Know The Value Of Pi by Eugene Ostashevsky from Nyrbooks and Leopard At The Door by Jennifer McVeigh from Penguin Books. As well as these books, I had also received more free books earlier in the day at The Globe At Hay and some gorgeous @obviousstate goodies. Needless to say, I also couldn’t resist a bit of book buying, so I came home with bulging bags of books!

On Sunday, I returned to Hay-on-wye for the Booksellers Breakfast, which was provided by local chef Hugh Sawyer at The Globe At Hay. Hugh is the founder of the sustainable food company Off Grid Gourmet and, last summer, my friends and I had a private dinner cooked by Hugh. It was a very generous birthday treat from my friends and we had a delicious dinner in a beautiful countryside setting. As a result, I was eagerly anticipating this breakfast and I can safely say it did not disappoint, with a feast of food on offer. I took the opportunity to say hello to Hugh and he did tell me that he recognised me, although I’m sure he was just being polite!

As well as getting to meet Hanneke @hannekehermes, the breakfast was a lovely opportunity to catch up with everyone else again before the inevitable goodbyes. Once breakfast was over, I joined Kimberlee, Sahiba and Rima for an afternoon of book browsing and, as it was such a warm sunny day, we even got to sit and indulge in an ice cream. We also had a private tour behind the scenes of Addyman Books from Anne, who showed us her own incredible book collection, as well as sharing some insightful stories and anecdotes. Anne has such a vast wealth of knowledge, particularly when it comes to politics, current affairs and, of course, books. I could listen to Anne all day and I was lucky enough to receive an offer to come back and stay over for a night above the bookshop, so I’m already looking forward to this opportunity. Waking up surrounded by books is every book lover’s dream turned reality!

By the time the evening came, Kimberlee and I were the last Bookstagrammers remaining and we sat out under the sun with a drink. It was lovely to have one last catch up and, after discovering we are the same age, it also turned out that we have many similarities in our lives. If I didn’t have work the next day, I would loved to have sat there chatting all evening.

While it was sad to say goodbye to everyone after such a short time, there was a sense in the air that something really special had taken place. When I returned to work the following Monday, my close colleague commented that I seemed different as a result of the weekend’s events and what a positive effect it appeared to have on me. I do feel that the weekend has inspired me in so many different ways and it felt empowering to do something just for myself and now it feels like it’s the beginning of a new adventure. I never would have imagined that I could make friends through social media and it was wonderful to meet so many like minded people. I feel so lucky to have been part of such a special weekend and I believe that this is an event that will continue to grow in the future. Next year’s Bookstagram Meet Up has already been extended to ten days and will take place from March 30th to April 8th. For all the latest updates, make sure to follow @bookstagramhay on Instagram. If you’re a Bookstagrammer or a book lover, this event should be at the top of your list. Trust me, you won’t regret it!

Manchester By The Sea

Manchester By The Sea Trailer

Rating: 5/5

Manchester By The Sea tells the story of janitor Lee Chandler, played by Casey Affleck in a career defining role. The film opens with Lee living a secluded existence in Quincy, Massachusetts before he is called back to his home town of Manchester after the death of his brother. Lee is unexpectedly given permanent custody of his sixteen year old nephew Patrick and is forced to abandon his solitary life, as well as face the demons of his past. As Lee learns to cope with this sudden responsibility, we are given glimpses into his previous life and what led him to leave his home town.

While there are many clichéd Hollywood films featuring similar plot lines, this is no such tale. Manchester By The Sea is a story of loss and grief and is one of the most beautiful yet heart-breaking films I have ever seen. A week later, I still find myself thinking about the film and its central character every day. Casey Affleck delivers a nuanced and haunting performance that is the highlight of his career. He is a most deserved winner of the Best Actor Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards, not to mention the slew of awards he has received for such a challenging role.

Other notable mentions must go to Michelle Williams, who is incredible as Lee’s ex-wife Randi, and Lucas Hedges in a memorable performance as Lee’s nephew Patrick. He is a remarkable new talent and looks set to have a bright future in Hollywood. Both deserve all the recognition they have received this awards season.

My heart was broken and I know yours is broken too.”

While this movie is a tragic tear-jerker, it has many comic moments, particularly as Lee deals with caring for his nephew and all the trials and tribulations that come with teenage life. Lighter touches include Patrick’s recurring requests for money and his juggling of his two girlfriends as well as the witty banter between Patrick and his uncle.

This film has now become a firm favourite of mine and I can’t recommend it enough. A note of warning though; tissues are strongly advised when viewing this movie. I experienced a wave of emotions throughout the film, from laughing hysterically one minute to weeping uncontrollably the next moment. Manchester By The Sea is one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time and it is worthy of all its accolades and critical acclaim.

The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey


Rating: 4/5

The Snow Child is a story that takes place in Alaska in the 1920s and focuses on Jack and Mabel, who have undertaken a fresh start in a remote area, after the death of their baby many years previously. When a mysterious young girl starts to appear on their land, they are wonderstruck and begin to let her in to their lives. But will the little girl let them into hers or will she disappear again?

The Snow Child is a book I have wanted to read for many years, yet somehow I have never gotten around to it. When the opportunity came to join a readalong on Bookstagram, I jumped at the chance. I am so glad I have finally read this wonderful story. The harsh Alaskan landscape is depicted through beautiful imagery that doesn’t detract from the brutal cold climate. Ivey has a remarkable way with words and portrays winter in such a wondrous manner that really entices me to visit and explore Alaska. I read this book in January, which was the perfect time of year for this novel. To my delight, snow even arrived while I was reading the book, which enhanced the atmosphere as well as providing some fantastic photo opportunities.

The Snow Child deals with many themes, including love, loss and family. The loss of Jack and Mabel’s baby threatens to fracture their relationship and their struggles to cope in the harsh Alaskan climate continues to have a negative effect, taking a financial toll on the couple. The arrival of the mysterious girl not long after they build a snow child has a positive influence on their lives as they begin to form a family unit. The girl’s appearance certainly has a magical quality and parallels the Russian fairy tale Snegurochka that Mable refers to in the story. Using this story implies the possibility of magic, yet hints at tragic undertones.

In the light of day, her dreams were drained of their nightmarish quality, and they seemed whimsical and strange, but the taste of loss remained in her mouth. It was difficult to focus on her tasks and she often drifted aimlessly through her own mind. A faint memory emerged again and again – her father, a leather-bound fairy tale book, a snow child alive in its pages. She couldn’t clearly recall the story or more than a few of the illustrations, and she began to worry over it, letting her thoughts touch it again and again. If there was such a book, could there be such a child? If an old man and woman conjured a little girl out of the snow and wilderness, what would she be to them? A daughter? A ghost?”

The third part of the novel veers in a surprisingly unexpected direction and I agree with other reviewers that it felt rather rushed. Yet I still adored this book, which gave me a sense of appreciation of life’s conveniences in today’s modern world. At the heart of the story is the love between family and how it can take shape in all forms.

While the book has a fairytale quality, it harks back to the more darker fairytales such as the Grimms fairytales, where its origins lie as apposed to today’s Disney retellings. This creates a sense of realism in the novel and the reader constantly has a sense of dread at what may lay ahead.

I would definitely recommend this beautiful story, especially to read during the winter months. While inspired by fairytales, it feels unique and memorable. I’m just surprised that it hasn’t been adapted into a movie version as the imagery created in the novel is stunning. Perhaps though it is best that it remains just as a novel, without any interference from Hollywood. Some fairytales don’t need to be retold…

 

Everyone Brave Is Forgiven – Chris Cleave

Rating: 3/5

This month I had the pleasure of being featured in Sainsbury’s magazine as part of a book reviewing panel, which was quite exciting! The book I was given to review was Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. The novel revolves around World War II and focuses on three central characters and how their lives are affected as a result. The female protagonist Mary North decides to help the children that Britain would rather forget. Friends Tom Shaw and Alistair Heath take different paths to each other, with Alistair answering the call of duty, while Tom refuses to sign up for a cause that he doesn’t believe in.

“How good it would be to fall in love – how perfectly, anciently new.”

On the surface, the novel appears to be a romanticised version of the war, yet in fact it never fails to shy away from the harsh brutality of war and its aftermath. Some scenes are so sudden and unexpected that they are quite shocking, with some graphic descriptions of the ensuing violence and physical harm caused by the war. Many issues are also explored in this book, including PTSD, race and class. Themes of love, family and friendship are a recurring feature throughout the story. Mary’s friendship with her best friend Hilda is one example of how friendship is used as a device to serve as a point of character growth for Mary, as well as highlighting her foibles.

Despite the book’s serious subject matter, the author does create moments of much needed light humour throughout the story, which enhanced my enjoyment of the novel. While this wouldn’t be my favourite book regarding the war, I found it an enjoyable, easy and poignant read.

“I was brought up to believe that everyone brave is forgiven, but in wartime, courage is cheap and clemency out of season.”

Cleave wrote this novel as a tribute to his grandparents. The character of Mary was inspired by his paternal grandmother, Margaret Slater, who drove ambulances in Birmingham during the Blitz, and his maternal grandmother, Mary West, a teacher who ran her own school and kindergarten. Mary and her fiancé David were separated for three years during the war when David served overseas in Malta.

Cleave’s family still have all the correspondence that David sent to Mary and provides excerpts of these at the end of the novel. Unfortunately, they have none of Mary’s, which travelled on a different ship from David’s and were sunk by a U-boat. This was the era of letter writing when people poured their heart and soul onto paper. A letter could take weeks or months to arrive and would mean everything to its sender and recipient. For every letter that David sent, Mary recorded in an exercise book the date it had been posted and arrived, which is featured in the additional excerpts in the novel. Mary also summarised the contents of the letters and her feelings in a separate diary. To see how much Mary cherished her letters demonstrates how important letter writing was during this time period and it is lamentable that letter writing appears to be a dying art form in this age of emails, instant messaging and video chat. The sense of instant gratification has no comparison to a long awaited love letter. Cleave describes his intentions regarding the love letters and those within the novel by saying that ‘I wanted to make that love glow in the letters between my two separated lovers, Mary and Alistair. I wanted those letters to be the bright centrepiece of the novel because it is so terribly brave to fall in love when the world is falling apart’.

Have you read Everyone Brave Is Forgiven? Do you enjoy historical fiction and do you still like to write letters? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

LA LA LAND

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Rating: 3/5

I’m back with my first post of the year! I’ve been sadly neglecting my poor blog recently, but I hope to rectify this with more posts this year, including some film ones at last. Films are my other passion and my aim this year is to review every film I go to see. Hopefully I will be able to review the latest new releases as much as possible, but I also might review a few golden oldies that I come across too.

So my first film review for this blog is the recent Golden Globe winner La La Land. After its astonishing success winning seven awards at the Golden Globes, it looks like a dead cert to pick up a slew of Oscar nominations when the nominees are announced on Tuesday January 24th.

La La Land is directed by Damien Chazelle, whose film Whiplash achieved much success at last year’s Academy Award ceremony. La La Land reunites Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, after previous pairings in Crazy Stupid Love and Gangster Squad. Here, the couple star as Mia, an aspiring actress, and jazz pianist Sebastian. Initially, the characters take an instant dislike to each other, but it isn’t long before they inevitably fall for each other. The story then focuses on whether they can achieve their dreams, a feat that may test their fledging relationship.

Being a huge fan of musicals, I was eagerly awaiting La La Land. I thought the trailer looked fantastic and I was certain that I was going to adore this movie. Yet somehow, I feel slightly underwhelmed and disappointed with it. In fact, I still can’t quite make up my mind about this film. Perhaps I need a second viewing before I really decide. It’s not often, but sometimes, it can take me a couple of viewings to truly appreciate a film.

There are many elements of La La Land that I loved and I certainly don’t want to detract from the beauty within this movie. It is visually stunning and its dazzling imagery depicts Los Angeles in a positive light, a city that is often accused of being soulless and seedy. The costumes are gorgeous, especially Mia’s wide range of dresses. I had serious wardrobe envy throughout the film!

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling certainly have a sparkling chemistry, although I preferred their pairing in Crazy Stupid Love. Who could forget their recreation of the Dirty Dancing lift?!

“That’s LA. They worship everything and they value nothing.”

Despite the glowing positives, I fear the negatives may outweigh my previous thoughts. While I loved the homage to old Hollywood films, in particular Singin’ in the Rain, this doesn’t quite live up to those classics. I couldn’t help compare it to the most recent musical adaptation of Les Miserables. In that film, the live singing was a brave choice, which resulted in more powerful performances. Here, the lip synching detracts from any emotional impact the characters were trying to convey. While Stone and Gosling give it their all, their vocal abilities seemed limited, highlighted as soon as the talented John Legend performed in the film. Perhaps this was the intention of the filmmakers in order to make the two central protagonists more relatable, but I couldn’t help wondering what more seasoned musical performers could have brought to the roles.

The dance sequences were enjoyable and I couldn’t stop tapping my feet, wishing I could join the characters onscreen. Yet at the same time, the two actors didn’t convey any sense of naturalness in these scenes. These moments in the film felt very much a performance and slightly contrived. In fact, the whole film felt a little too self-aware and self-referential to portray any sense of realism. Surprisingly for a musical, the songs weren’t even that memorable, with only a couple of numbers in particular being a standout for me.

At 128 minutes long, La La Land is quite a lengthy feature and unfortunately it began to drag in the final act. I expected to come out of the screening with a huge smile on my face, but to be honest I was just relieved it was finally over. That might be more to do with me feeling sleepy at that point, though!

I do feel I am being too harsh on this film and I am surprising myself with how negative this review has become. I honestly expected La La Land to become one of my new favourites, but somehow it seemed to be lacking a certain something for me. This feels like such a shame, so I think I will definitely have to revisit it again some time. By then, I might end up falling completely in love with it. Who knows?!

Have you seen La La Land yet? Do you completely disagree with everything I’ve just said? Feel free to comment and tell me why I’m wrong!