Matilda at Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

This is not really a review, but sort of a general comment on Matilda as a thing.

If you’ve been living under a rock, you might not know that Matilda is a musical, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, and based on the book by Roald Dahl. It’s been wowing audiences in London and around the world since 2011.

Matilda Wormwood is the genius child of parents who don’t appreciate her and encourage her to watch TV rather than read those silly books, who helps her teacher reclaim her courage and her family history while also discovering that there are people in the world who encourage intelligence rather than try to stamp it out.

I’ve seen Matilda I think three times in London and went to see it today (hence the lateness of the post) at The Mayflower Theatre in Southampton as a treat for my youngest son. I should explain that after taking my eldest son to see The Lion King some years ago, I was disappointed to learn that he HATES musicals. So much so that he was incredibly sad to find out that the show carried on after the interval. This then was an experiment to see whether I would at least have one child with which to share my interests!

In general, hooray, he enjoyed it. My son has ADHD so sitting for a long period of time for something like this really is an effort, which he achieved admirably – his school choir are rehearsing When I Grow Up at the moment, so he did already have some idea of what the show might be like, but he did well to concentrate on all of it and he really enjoyed it.

As I’ve said, I’ve seen Matilda before and it was just as excellent as I remembered. I’m seeing it again in a couple of weeks with friends and I genuinely don’t think it’s a show I would get tired of. There is just such an exuberance about it and always loads to look at in the set and the actions of the supporting cast. The lyrics are very clever and repeated viewings reveal more little quips that you’ve not noticed before – it’s rare that a show can say that.

Playing Mrs Wormwood on the tour is Rebecca Thornhill, who (if I recall correctly) has been Mrs Wormwood every time I’ve seen the show, but then she IS amazing at it, and so funny in the role.

I’m really not sure which of the Matildas I saw tonight unfortunately, but for every one I’ve seen, I’m in awe of such a young child taking on this hefty role and performing it so well – today’s Matilda was just wonderful.

You can’t talk about this musical without mentioning Miss Trunchbull – played on the tour by Elliot Harper. A huge character (in many senses) requiring such an over-the-top performance, she’s a great character to hate and was played today in all her bonkers glory!

Sadly, this tour of Matilda is all but over (it plays into next month in Southampton, then the tour concludes in Norwich), but the London production is still going strong. I can highly recommend the show for adults and children – there were many quite young children there today and they were, on the whole, very well-behaved – and who knows? I may just book to see it again…

Posted in A Blog A Day, Theatre, Theatre Reviews | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Blog A Day: My Queens of Crime

I read a considerable amount of crime fiction – perhaps more than I sometimes think is healthy – and I love a good mystery. Early on in my crime-reading days, I discovered Bitter Medicine, one of the VI Warshawski books by Sara Paretsky, and boy was I hooked!

What struck me most about that book was VI – a single woman who was working as an investigator was living her best life, and totally unapologetic about it. That and an incredible plot that soon had me reaching for more.

As the years went by, I expanded my consumption of both crime novels in general and in female detective especially so this post is a basic run-down of my favourites.

VI Warshawski/Sara Paretsky

A series that currently runs to 19 books, the VI Warshawski books were my first exposure to a kickass female detective. As I’ve already said, I loved that she was a strong woman who lived as she chose, but she also struck a note of realism, as she was very often short of money and doing all the crappy life admin and jobs that we all have to do the make ends meet.

VI also had a healthy relationship with…relationships! She met a wide variety of men in her job, some of whom she started seeing on a regular basis, over more than one book, some of whom she slept with and didn’t really see again, but whatever, she didn’t apologise for how she lived her life – except perhaps to her downstairs neighbour who takes it upon himself to protect VI whether she needs protecting or not!

There was a movie made of a selection of the VI books, starring Kathleen Turner, which is ok, but not really representative the quality of the books.

I’m currently a couple of books behind with VI – something I hope to correct over the summer.

You can find out more about Sara Paretsky on her website.

Kinsey Millhone/Sue Grafton

Sue Grafton was a contemporary of Sara Paretsky and, sadly passed away before completing her Alphabet series of books about Californian PI Kinsey Millhone. Beginning with A is for Alibi, Sue worked her way through the alphabet as far as Y, producing a remarkable series of thrilling mysteries, all of which are solved with a twist!

Kinsey herself is a lot like VI Warshawski in her living arrangements and her approach to life, but Kinsey’s Santa Teresa is a lot different to VI’s Chicago and, as the years went on and Kinsey remained in the 1980s, the books became more of a snapshot of the detective business in the time before the Internet and forensic advances.

In some of Kinsey’s adventures, characters ran across several books, but sometimes they were self-contained, but each was really cleverly done and a very quick read, ripe for re-reading.

To find out more about Sue Grafton’s life and work, you can check out her website, where her daughter carries on promoting her work.

Stephanie Plum/Janet Evanovich

While my last two choices are strong, independent women, Stephanie Plum is kind of a hot mess! That’s certainly not to do her down, but when you consider that she took up bounty hunting purely because she couldn’t find a job and was spectacularly bad at it in the beginning, you’ll start to get an idea of her.

So Sue Grafton went with letters, but Janet Evanovich went with numbers, starting her series with One for the Money, which was turned into a movie in 2012. Now, I liked the movie, but look it up online and you’ll find some scathing reviews!

The Stephanie Plum books (currently at number 26) are great, self-contained mysteries, but they are also hilariously funny! With Stephanie’s life spiralling out of control, and no money in her bank account, she blunders from job to job, helped by old flame Joseph Morelli, mysterious bounty hunter Ranger (a love triangle that develops throughout) and her buxom friend Lula – some of the scenes in which they try and capture people who’ve skipped bail have me laughing properly out loud.

With numbering, the future for this series seems limitless, which is great news for me, as I’m thoroughly enjoying it…

To find out more about Stephanie Plum and Janet Evanovich, you can take a look at her website.

So there you are – I’ve narrowed this list down to three, but there are plenty more people I could have added to the list. I’d be really interested to know your Queens – and Kings – of crime, so do leave me a comment or do get in touch on Twitter!

Posted in A Blog A Day, Books | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Vinyl Detective: The Run-Out Groove by Andrew Cartmel

His first adventure consisted of the search for a rare record; his second begins with the discovery of one. When a mint copy of the final album by “Valerian”–England’s great lost rock band of the 1960s–surfaces in a charity shop, all hell breaks loose. 

Finding this record triggers a chain of events culminating in our hero learning the true fate of the singer Valerian, who died under equivocal circumstances just after–or was it just before?–the abduction of her two-year-old son.

Along the way, the Vinyl Detective finds himself marked for death, at the wrong end of a shotgun, and unknowingly dosed with LSD as a prelude to being burned alive. And then there’s the grave robbing…

But he does find out what happened to the missing child, and it wasn’t what anyone expected–or wanted–to hear.

What I Thought:

I recently reviewed the first book in the Vinyl Detective series, and this second installment, The Run-Out Groove, it just as good.

The strong point of this series is that narrative voice of the titular detective – he has a dry wit, and knows his stuff when it comes to new records. Add that to an intricate and mysterious plot, and you’ve got a thoroughly entertaining book with some laugh-out-loud moments.

Some characters return from book one, Nevada and Tinkler being just two, and there are some new ones to enjoy, mostly connected to Valerian and all with something to hide!

Again, in this book, there is a lot of detail about music as the detective (who is still not named) goes about his searches – I find this fascinating, as it’s generally new information to me and I feel like it adds much-needed background on how the detective does his job.

There is clearly an affinity for animals in Andrew Cartmel’s work, as there is an especially interesting goose featured, alongside the detective’s cats. This might be the first book in which there is a communication system created using cats!

I’m already excited for the next two books in the series and I’ve also started working my way through the Rivers of London graphic novels, on which Andrew Cartmel is a collaborator.

To find out more about those and Andrew Cartmel’s other work, why not check out his website, where he is currently blogging about the books he’s reading…

The Vinyl Detective: The Run-Out Groove is published by Titan books.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

Posted in A Blog A Day, Book Review | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

What do you do next, after you’ve changed the world?

It is 1928. Matilda Simpkin, rooting through a cupboard, comes across a small wooden club – an old possession of hers, unseen for more than a decade.

Mattie is a woman with a thrilling past and a chafingly uneventful present. During the Women’s Suffrage Campaign she was a militant. Jailed five times, she marched, sang, gave speeches, smashed windows and heckled Winston Churchill, and nothing – nothing – since then has had the same depth, the same excitement.

Now in middle age, she is still looking for a fresh mould into which to pour her energies. Giving the wooden club a thoughtful twirl, she is struck by an idea – but what starts as a brilliantly idealistic plan is derailed by a connection with Mattie’s militant past, one which begins to threaten every principle that she stands for.

Old Baggage is a funny and bittersweet portrait of a woman who has never, never given up the fight.

What I Thought:

If you’re looking at this review, but have yet to read Lissa Evans’ novel Crooked Heart, then I recommend you buy it and read it immediately. Old Baggage is a prequel to that excellent novel, and it provides much more background to a beloved character from Crooked Heart – Noel’s godmother Mattie.

This book fills an interesting gap in what we think of when we think of the Sufragettes – the time after the vote had been won. Those women founght long and hard and with no thought for their personl comfort and safety to win the vote for women, but after being so militant and so alive during that time, how did they slot back into their lives afterwards? Did they just fade back into the kitchen?

The inter-war period is often shown as just being The Great Gatsby, then the Great Depression, but it’s a fascinating period when the role of women, forever changed by the suffrage movement, began an evolution that was accelerated by the Second World War, and is still going on today.

Mattie fills her time lecturing on the fight for the vote, showing endless slides to groups of bored women, until a chance meeting leads her to start a group for young ladies in an attempt to counter the growth of fascist organisations – especially that of an old comrade. Although things go awry for her, Mattie keeps her can-do attitude and an optimistic view of things as best she can.

In Crooked Heart, Mattie is mentioned sparingly, as she unfortunately develops dementia, but even through the depiction of her as an elderly lady, the Mattie from Old Baggage is still there – a no-nonsense woman of bravery and spirit who wants to do good in the world. As a character, she is just wonderful.

Both books are heartwarming to read. The writing is very funny, but in a wry and knowing way and there is a lot to think about once you’ve read Old Baggage in particular. I guess it strikes a chord with me, dealing as it does with the place of older women in society. This is something I think about a lot and it’s compelling to watch Mattie try to start again in establishing herself after such an action-packed early life.

As you can imagine, both Crooked Heart and Old Baggage are highly recommended by me and I’d recommend reading both side by side to properly appreciate Mattie as the one-of-a-kind she is.

Old Baggage is published by Black Swan.

To find out more about Lissa Evans and her other, wonderful books, why not check out her website? Alternatively, you can connect with her on Twitter, where she is as witty and on point as her books are!

Please note: I received a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

Posted in A Blog A Day, Book Review | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Blog A Day: Gullivers Bookshop

Although I still have lots of reviews in the wings this month, it’s nice to be able to add in a few other things too, so I thought I would write a few words about one of my favourite places – of course it’s a bookshop!

Gullivers, Wimborne

Having a local independent bookshop really is a privilege and, while I am not above using ‘The Evil Empire’ you really can’t compare buying online with actually going into a bookshop and touching and smelling before you buy.

My local indy is Gullivers Bookshop in Wimborne and they are both old-fashioned (in the best way) and forward-thinking, which is clearly why they were named the Best Independent Bookshop in the South West this year. They did not, ultimately, win the national award, but they was robbed!!

One of the main reasons I like the shop so much is that you get the feeling that you are among like-minded people, and it’s easy to chat for ages about books and bookish things. There is a huge range of books and sundries to choose from, despite it not being the biggest shop in the world, and I like taking my kids there too as there is plenty for them too – including a big bucket of dinosaurs to play with!

News from the High Street is so often doom and gloom these days, that it’s nice to see a shop like this thriving, and playing a part in the local community. Gullivers are expert at this, having taken over the local record shop (Square Records) to save it from closure, and also running an annual literary festival based in various venues in the town. They also have a sister shop in Westbourne – I don’t know how they find the time!

As I said, they are forward-thinking at Gullivers, making full use of social media to chat about books – why not give them a follow on Twitter and join in the conversation?

I’d love to hear more about your favourite book shops and book places, so do leave a comment below, or give me a nudge on Twitter – I’d love to build my list of great book shops to visit!

Posted in A Blog A Day, Books | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments