Celebrating Stories

The main reason for my Scotland trip was to stay in Pitlochry for the festival theatre there.  I love going to the theatre but – at least locally – we don’t seem to get many proper plays so I was very much looking forward to my trip.

The theatre famously states that you can, ‘Stay six days, see six plays.’  We were a little early in the season for that but I still had a choice of four.  I decided against The Crucible as it traumatised me when I had to study it at school.  Watching Jo March (Winona Ryder) playing Abigail Williams in the film was just too disturbing for me!

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The theatre has the best views

That still left me with a choice of three shows though.  The first I went to see was Blonde Bombshells of 1943, which tells the story of Betty – a band leader whose band has landed a BBC performance just when she has lost half her players.  The auditions and rehearsals were so entertaining and it was a great show.  I especially enjoyed the performance of Tilly-Mae Millbrook who played Miranda.

Next I saw Blithe Spirit – a story I know very well as I have seen the film several times.  This was my favourite of the week  – a real classic play.  I loved Eddie – played by David Rankine – a different take on the maid character.

Finally, I went to see Summer Holiday which was of course a lot of fun.  It was a bit too noisy for me but that is the case for any musical.  I enjoyed myself but it reinforced something which really I already knew – for me, plays are the thing.

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I’ve never had the opportunity to see repertory theatre before and I loved being able to watch the same people play different characters through the week.  They really did change, which just shows what great actors they are.

I had the best time – a whole week immersed in stories was just wonderful.  I do so enjoy the theatre and I must make the effort to get to more plays – even if I have to travel a bit further to get there.

Literary Edinburgh

I have recently been spending some time in Scotland, a place which I love.  I stopped off on the way up to spend the day in Edinburgh and I had a great time soaking up the culture.

My first stop had to be the Scott Memorial.  It really stands out on the skyline and as I was reading Waverley at the time I couldn’t not pay it a visit.  There is a little café in the park there which I found was the perfect spot for breakfast.

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I had a lovely time wandering through the streets before moving on to the National Library of Scotland.  Unfortunately the main exhibition was closed due to technical problems with the lighting but I did get to see a small display of letters and manuscripts relating to the publication of Byron’s Don Juan.  It was wonderful to see and I was especially fascinated by the proof copies annotated with Byron’s corrections.

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I loved this staircase at the National Library of Scotland!

By then it was lunchtime.  I was meeting an old university friend and we had a lovely catch up before going on to the Writers’ Museum.  I had been so looking forward to this and I was not disappointed.  I had actually been before but not for several years and even then it was just a flying visit.  This time I could really take everything in, although we still had to be kicked out at closing time!

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If I lived here I would have to have that little tower room!

The museum mostly focuses on Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott.  Obviously, as I was reading Waverley, I was excited about seeing the Scott displays.  I was especially moved by his rocking horse – with uneven steps for his feet as he had polio as a child.

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I was also fascinated by the Stevenson displays.  He lived such an interesting life all over the world, although sadly that was mainly due to his ongoing ill health.  Last year I read an excellent book by Joseph Farrell about Stevenson’s time in Samoa so I loved seeing some of his belongings too.

The Burns exhibition was also great, although I am perhaps less familiar with his work.  I’m afraid that I also came away with the impression that he was the least likeable of the three men!

Having left the museum I had half an hour to spare before my train left, which gave me just enough time for a very fleeting visit to The Fruitmarket Gallery.  I had seen the title of their current exhibition – The Annotated Reader – as I passed in the morning and naturally I was intrigued.  It hadn’t been open then but was now so I sacrificed my chance of a cup of tea and dived in.

The creators of the exhibition – Ryan Gander and Jonathan P Watts – had asked a whole range of people to annotate a page from the book they would choose to have with them if they had missed the last train home.  Those pages were hung from the walls around the gallery and visitors were positively encouraged to take them home.  I found the whole idea fascinating, picked up several pages for myself and would have loved to be able to spend more time there.

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Catching my train north I learnt both that Edinburgh Waverley is the only railway station in the world named after a novel and the there is such a thing as a UNESCO city of literature.  I had no idea that was a thing but I thoroughly approve and would love to find some more!

I had the most fantastic day – I couldn’t live in a city but I do enjoy my occassional trips.  I love discovering literary and other cultural places to visit and I always come away feeling inspired to write and to read everything.

Reading Spot

Many people have a special reading spot to sit with a book but I never have.  Not that I have nowhere to read – far from it.  Of course, I do have my hammock chair where I love to sit and read but it is not my designated spot.  I will read anywhere and everywhere.

It’s part of the reason I take a book with me everywhere.  You never know when you might have a spare five minutes which could be filled with valuable reading time.  Waiting for a train, a tea break at work, anything is possible.

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This is Moor at 13 in Kingswear, just across the river from Dartmouth. It is a lovely place with the most amazing view!

One of my favourite things to do though is take myself out to a coffee shop, order a hot drink (and maybe a cake) and just sit by myself and read.  It is wonderful.

The Joys of Listening

Audio books have been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember.  As a child I used to have my bedtime story read to me by my parents but then I loved to listen to story tapes as I fell asleep.  I still sometimes do that to this day, although I tend to fall asleep a lot faster these days.  Sleep timers are a wonderful invention.

Mostly though, I listen to them when I am doing something which would normally mean I couldn’t read.  Like driving – it is frowned upon to read a physical book behind the wheel!  Audio books definitely make the journey more interesting.

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I recently discovered the Libby app at my library which allows me to borrow audio books (and e-books if I want them) and download them onto my phone.  It has revolutionised my listening and I have found books I had never heard of before.  Since I got the app I have been listening to a huge number of cosy crime books – specifically the Needlecraft Mysteries by Monica Ferris and the Booktown Mysteries by Lorna Barrett.  I have been devouring them and loving every minute.  I am not alone either – the newest Booktown Mystery has a six month waiting list!  It is wonderful to see any form of library so well used.

Independent Bookshop Week

This week is one of the most exciting in the whole year – it is independent bookshop week!  A whole week celebrating independent bookshops, what could possibly be better?

I normally try to visit as many bookshops as I can but this year my schedule is rather full and I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it to any this week (although we’re only halfway through so there is still hope!).

I didn’t want to miss out entirely though so I took myself out for my own mini bookshop crawl last week.  I was spending a couple of days in Dartmouth and took advantage of that to explore the bookshops.

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I started off in the Community Bookshop which opened to replace the famous Harbour Bookshop (started by Christopher Robin Milne himself!) when it sadly had to close.  The Community Bookshop still has a dedicated Pooh Corner and of course I had to send a Christopher Robin postcard!

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This is such a lovely shop, crammed full of books and with a wonderful atmosphere.  I could have spent hours browsing – although that is true of most bookshops!  Naturally I couldn’t leave without buying something.  I was browsing the classics section with nothing particular in mind when I found The Old Man in the Corner by Baroness Orczy.  I love the Tommy and Tuppence series by Agatha Christie and in the first book they solve several different mysteries, each time using the methods of a different fictional detective. One of those is the Teahouse Detective and as I have never read it I couldn’t resist.

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My next stop was Dartmouth Booksellers, another lovely little shop with the most tempting table displays – there were so many books I wanted to buy!  I love browsing and finding books I have never heard of, which is what happened here.  I came away with Midnight at Moonstone by Lara Fletcher, mainly because it is such a pretty book.  It also sounds like an excellent story and I am so much looking forward to reading it.

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I had a wonderful time on my mini bookshop crawl.  Browsing in bookshops is one of the best things to do – if you can get to an independent bookshop this week do try to visit it.  If not, just take a trip to any bookshop or even a library.  We need them!

Book Review – The Paper and Hearts Society

When I was at school I didn’t know anyone who loved books as much as me.  In fact, I can’t remember seeing many people reading for pleasure at all, although I’m sure they must have done so.  I felt that I was very different.

Once when we went on a sixth form college open day we passed two girls who were discussing the various merits of the Brontës.  My friends thought they were weird – I thought them wonderful (I can’t remember which Brontë those girls preferred but for me Anne is easily the best Brontë sister).

All of which means that when I read the blurb of Lucy Powrie’s debut book The Paper & Hearts Society I knew I had to read it and I could not have been more delighted when Hachette sent me a reading copy.

Publisher’s Blurb

A brand new series from Booktuber Lucy Powrie – about what happens when you give up on trying to fit in in and let your weird out!  It’s time to join The Paper & Hearts Society …

Tabby Brown is tired of trying to fit in.  She doesn’t want to go to parties – in fact, she would much rather snuggle up on the sofa with her favourite book.

It’s like she hasn’t found her people …

Then Tabby joins a club that promises to celebrate books.  What could go wrong? EVERYTHING – especially when making new friends brings out an AWKWARD BUZZING feeling all over her body.

But Olivia, Cassie, Henry and Ed have something that makes Tabby come back.  Maybe it’s the Austen-themed fancy-dress parties, or Ed’s fluffy cat Mrs Simpkins, or could it be Henry himself …

Can Tabby let her weird out AND live THE BEST BOOKISH LIFE POSSIBLE?

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As soon as Tabby found the flier for the book club I was hooked.  They sounded like just my kind of people and I really wanted to join.  I was whisked away on the story and I loved it.

Lucy has managed to create a diverse range of characters without being heavy handed about it.  She treats people’s differences in a very matter of fact way without making a big deal out of them.  I have read books where it seems as if the diversity is included just for the sake of it.  That was absolutely not the case here – this is primarily a book about people who love books.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I could see a lot of myself in Tabby and I would recommend it to anyone who has ever felt like an outsider or who just loves books.  Books are a key part of The Paper & Hearts Society and it is glorious.

Book Details

The Paper & Hearts Society by Lucy Powrie

ISBN: 9781444949230

Publisher: Hachette Children’s Group

RRP: £7.99

Book Review – The Princess and the Fangirl

If you have not yet read Ashley Poston’s Geekerella I would highly recommend going and finding a copy. It is the most lovely book about fandoms and I adored it.  The sequel – The Princess and the Fangirl – has just been published and I was so excited to receive a reading copy from Quirk Books.

Publisher’s Blurb

Imogen Lovelace is an ordinary fangirl on an impossible mission: to save her favorite Starfield character, Princess Amara, from being killed off.  On the other hand, the actress who plays Amara wouldn’t mind being axed.  Jessica Stone doesn’t even like being part of the Starfield franchise—and she’s desperate to leave the intense scrutiny of fandom behind.

Though Imogen and Jess have nothing in common, they do look strangely similar to one another—and a case of mistaken identity at ExcelsiCon sets off a chain of events that will change both of their lives.  When the script for the Starfield sequel leaks, with all signs pointing to Jess, she and Imogen must trade places to find the person responsible.  The deal: Imogen will play Jess at her signings and panels, and Jess will help Imogen’s best friend run their booth.

But as these “princesses” race to find the script leaker—in each other’s shoes—they’re up against more than they bargained for.  From the darker side of fandom to unexpected crushes, Imogen and Jess must find a way to rescue themselves from their own expectations…and redefine what it means to live happily ever after.

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This books continues the story of Geekerella but follows different characters through the story.  I wasn’t sure how I felt about that at first – I wanted to know more about what happened to Elle and Darien!  I needn’t have worried though – Imogen and Jess had a brand new story and I was very quickly immersed in it.

The book is set at ExcelsiCon and is written in a way which made me very keen to find a convention to visit.  I’ve discovered that I love books about people who are passionate about something, be that a book, and film or a television show.  Stories really.  All of which means that I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

The thing I took most from it though was something Imogen’s friend Harper says.  She talks about how she doesn’t believe that, ‘…the only meaningful stories are the ones that are deep and pondering and boring… I think sometimes the stories we need are the ones about taking the hobbits to Isengard.’  I am often guilty of picking up books because I think I should read them.  If they don’t enthrall me I struggle through them but my reading slows right down and I get distracted much more easily.  The Princess and the Fangirl has reminded me that it’s okay to read ‘easier’, frivolous books if I enjoy them because that is the point.  As Ashley Poston says in her acknowledgements, we should ‘keep reading what makes you happy, and keep celebrating the content that makes you feel most alive, and carve out your spot in the universe.’

Book Details

The Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston

ISBN: 9781683691105

Publisher: Quirk Books

RRP: £8.99

 

Weekend Reading

My sister recently bought herself a hammock seat and having sat in it decided it was exactly what I needed. She is very kind so now I have one too!

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We had great fun getting it up – all the branches seem to go straight up in the air!

It is the most wonderful place to sit and read and I have spent a couple of entire days curled up in it with a book and a cup of tea. I’ve even eaten my lunch and had a nap in it (I would highly recommend it for naps)!

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Even the ponies like it!

I have also needed some blankets – it might be sunny at the moment but it is not really all that warm yet and sitting still you do get a bit chilly. It is totally worth it though.

It is amazing how much reading you can get through when you have no distractions. Over one weekend I spent two afternoons hanging and reading and I got through two children’s books (Malamander by Thomas Taylor and We Won an Island by Charlotte Lo) and a good sized chunk of Martin Chuzzlewit. It was bliss.

Book Review – We Won an Island

I was very lucky to be sent a reading copy of Charlotte Lo’s book We Won an Island by Nosy Crow Books.  I was very excited – the blurb made it sound like exactly the sort of book I would have loved as a child and as you may have noticed I am still very fond of children’s books!

Publisher’s Blurb

When Luna’s family win an island, Luna thinks it will solve everything AND she can finally get a donkey!  But things don’t go entirely to plan – no one expects Luna’s younger brother to win a Sheep Pageant, for example – and the secret festival they hold soon spirals out of control.  But the island is beautiful, and the family are happy, and maybe Luna will get her donkey after all…

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I read this book last Sunday sat in the shade by the stream and it was the perfect setting for it.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I loved the book.  The idea of escaping to an island is obviously wonderful and I thought it was very well written.  The childrren knew exactly what they wanted and just worked for it – no matter how unlikely success might seem.

Of course, they had their setbacks – not least their Father’s depression.  I thought the author portrayed this really well and in a way young children could understand, without becoming too overwhelming or scary.

As a child this book would have sat very nicely on my shelf with Enid Blyton and I have no doubt I would have re-read it many times.  This is a wonderful escapist read and perfect for the summer holidays.

Book Details

We Won and Island by Charlotte Lo

Publisher: Nosy Crow

ISBN: 9781788000413

RRP: £6.99

Book Club Musings

Sometimes it is the books you least expect which cause the best discussions.

This week my book club met to discuss Raynor Winn’s The Salt Path – her account of walking the South West Coast Path with her husband Moth after they not only lost both their home and livelihood but Moth was also diagnosed with a terminal illness.  I read a great many glowing reviews when it first came out and everyone I have ever spoken to has absolutely loved it.  That was the first reason I thought we wouldn’t have a great discussion – when all of us love a book we have very little to say.

The second reason was that the only other time we have read a non-fiction book we really struggled to talk about it.  We couldn’t dissect the plot because it was true and it was one of those books about which nobody had any very strong feelings.  We all enjoyed it but nobody loved it or hated it.  It turns out that as a group we need strong feelings to get a decent discussion!

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As I said though, books can surprise you.  I have to admit that I didn’t love The Salt Path but I didn’t dislike it either.  However, the book group as a whole had a lot of strong opinions.  There was a really good turn out and what ended up being an excellent discussion.  People had a lot to say!

It was one of the best meetings we have ever had and was exactly why I wanted to join in the first place.  There is nothing like talking about books with other people who love them as much as you do.