The Next Step in the Dance – Tim Gautreaux

I hadn’t actually heard of this book, or its author, before reading it – I picked it up because of its publisher: Fox, Fincher & Tepper. It is an independent publishing outfit from Bath – sold at the bookshop, Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, I wrote about when I went to Bath back in November. (So now you know how long I’ve had this book for.) They publish what they describe as books that are “under-celebrated beautifully written”. And yes, it’s a good book, and yes also very well written. I think to summarise my feelings I wouldn’t say necessarily that it will become one of my favourites, but it was still good.

It’s a story that starts of with seemingly low stakes: the narrative of a young couple, from a small town in the US in rural south Louisiana. (Certainly, there is nothing fantastical or apocalyptic about the context.) However, it actually gets a lot more interesting and engaging as it progresses; the situations built upon each other, steadily raising the stakes higher each time a solution was reached for the previous. Yet, it was still nothing unrealistic, although there was the potential for multiple characters’ death and injury.

The characters read as very real, alongside the extremely vivid sense of place, to make for an engaging experience – I think the acute location of the events was what kept me invested in the characters and their story. I think it’s a testament to the writing that although I had not heard of the area – let alone know anything about its history of lifestyle there – I still felt like I understood the circumstances and issues of the narrative. Therefore, I can only imagine how much more interesting a read it could be for those that do know about the area.

In conclusion, I found it an enjoyable book to read – the kind that although I didn’t find captivating to be exuberantly recommending to all my friends, I did still really like it.

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(I feel that I should acknowledge that having taken so long to read it – thanks to university work – this may have partly influenced my views and sense of enjoyment, being unable to fully invest my time in it. So perhaps you may like to take my review with a pinch of salt?)


 

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Secrets for the Mad – dodie

Obsessions, Confessions and Life Lessons

I have my own confession: I read this book around half a year ago, but I’ve just been so busy that I have only now had the time to catch up. However, I would like start by acknowledging that the time it has taken me to actually write to write this book review is in no way a reflection on how much I enjoyed the book – in fact, I really liked it.

I’ve known about dodie for a few years now: I first discovered her on her youtube channel, but it is her beautiful songs that made me really interested in her. Her songwriting talent, and her penchant for emotional storytelling, on many of her instagram posts and in her videos, set up a precedent for her writing ability and style. I found that in fact the writing in this book not only matched this expectation, but was also improved to fit the form of a written book, and its specific aims.

This book wasn’t really like anything I’ve read before (yes, it sounds cliché, but I mean it quite literally!) It was not quite a ‘self-help’ book – although it certainly gave plenty of advice and useful anecdotes – it was also a little autobiographical in moments, with parts as personal accounts of moments of her life that establishes the “life lessons” of the book’s bi-line. All of this together, though, was written in a considered yet intimate style – as though I were reading dodie’s diary or thoughts, and it was this vulnerability that made the book so captivating to read.

The format was obviously set up careful – and sensibly too – in sections that concentrate on certain memories and experiences that she has learned from. I won’t give any spoilers, but there were a couple of parts that were particularly inspiring, and some too that there surprisingly open in their revelations of such personal moments – especially from someone who lives with an ever-increasing fanbase. Yet, I think it was also these moments that made it the most important in their honesty, and the lessons taught are passed on as a result.

All the sections were accompanied by some beautiful drawings, that were part illustrations but also drawn like doodles, which enhanced the sense of intimacy and made it even more unique.

Overall, it was an enjoyable and simple read, that could be read in one go or dipped in and out of for moments of advice (or even for her vote recipes she added!).

 

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Third Year, Last Semester – where did it go?

I feel like I have some explaining to do… I am very sorry that I’ve been M.I.A recently, but this last semester at university has been relentless (but I made it!). In fact, other than our week in Lisbon over the Easter break, I haven’t stopped. The other day though I had my final (and only) exam, after handing in my coursework and dissertation, so I am now free – and have the time to tell you all about it.

I was told quite a few times that this would be the busiest time while at university, and while I didn’t contest it, I didn’t completely realise how busy it would be. As expected with year 3, the modules this semester were rather tough academically – in my opinion, they were the most difficult out of all that I studied over the three years. It could perhaps be partly due to the pressure of the final grade that hits this semester, as well as it being the last opportunity to prove yourself. (I’m lucky enough from my work last year and in autumn to to be in a very firm position with my marks, but I still wanted to do my best.) There was also a sense of wanting and anticipation for it all to be finished – especially at my exam, as the last assessment of my year. Although this term wasn’t the most interesting for me personally, I still learnt a lot, with much of my modules exercising a focus on applying critical theory to the literature we were reading, which I am glad to have developed.

Dissertation

The most fun and rewarding of my academic work this semester was definitely my dissertation – I’ve actually been working on it all year but, as an optional module, it counted towards my credits in the spring alongside my two other modules. I can’t deny that it took a lot of time, mostly researching and re-drafting my writing, but I was very happy with my final result. I loved my topic, and was still fascinated with the research I was doing by the time I finished. (And I know it’s perhaps unusual not to be totally fed-up with it by the time it’s finished, but I will happily acknowledge that I was just a right nerd with my dissertation – I really enjoyed it.) We’ll just have to wait and see how good it actually it is (and maybe I will write a post about it this summer).

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Social Life? What’s that?

That’s a joke (mostly!). In fact, with the very real idea of my time as an undergraduate finishing at the end of the semester, I wanted to make the most of time I had left – and so, I packed a lot in. I have been a part of the university lacrosse team in all three years, with training and matches throughout this last semester until after the Easter holidays (just when everything got super busy!). I’ve really come to value the time it gives me outside and exercising, which I know, for me, is super important for my mental health as much as it is physically beneficial. I also finished another work placement: as a marketing assistant for the English school’s linguistics company, which was eye-opening and very useful for the CV too. (The English School here is fantastic at creating many placement opportunities throughout the year, which I really tried to capitalise on throughout my time here.)

However, most of my social life recently has revolved around the university theatre – the Nottingham New Theatre. I’ve been heavily involved this term (again, making the most of my time), as an actress in a show and as a production assistant for another show. I always have the best time in shows, despite the stress they create during show week. (Perhaps timing wasn’t the best this year, with my show the same week as my coursework deadline AND my dissertation deadline, but it made for an emotional day to give in my diss, and do my final show at Nottingham on the same day!)

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 Well, all that’s left now is travelling to Cornwall for a min-holiday, before my last couple of weeks of term in Nottingham, which is busy with celebratory dinners, parties and the dreaded results! (Wish me luck?)


Lots of Sun in Lisbon, Portugal

Last week I went away once again with my family, this time to Lisbon in Portugal. I can’t say that I knew much at all  about the country before I went, either the culture or the language (although I did do a quick google search while sat in a cafe once we arrived), so it was a fun AND educational trip. I had a great time, and once again we filled the few days we were there full of tourist-y things. So, here are my top places:

City Centre
There’s a lot to see around the city’s centre (alongside the many shops), and we only managed to get around to see a few of the places that are often suggested.

Carmo Convent:
We didn’t visit until our final day, but it turned out to be one of my favourite places. It’s a monastery that was partially destroyed by an earthquake that hit the city hard in the 1700s, so these medieval monastery ruins actually have no roof. It’s not something you see everyday, but I found it fascinating as well as peaceful – oh, and of course, made for brilliant lighting for pictures. The museum there was not huge, but packed with a good range of artefacts ranging back to the Roman period and further.

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Rua Augusta Arch:
There’s a great view of the city centre if you go up the arch – and its only a couple of euros, with an elevator too. (As someone who is afraid of heights, this was also the only tall structure that I went up.)

Lisbon Castle:
So here’s a word of warning about Lisbon: it’s very hilly! And often they are quite steep. Walking to the castle at the top of one of the tallest of these hills, this became even more apparent. You can pay to go inside and into the gardens, but it was quite expensive, so  instead we found a nearby cafe to stop at, before continuing on our walk around the city.

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Belem
Just a short train ride away is the area of Belem, full of historical sites. It’s one of the main tourist sites in Lisbon, so be prepared for some crowds (and I would recommend the train rather than the tram, if for no other reason than the larger-sized carriages). The old battle fortress of Torre de Belem was, for me, the most interesting attraction in Sintra. An old battlement and fortress tower, it was surprisingly small, but unlike anything I’ve seen before.

The Padrao dos Descrobimentos monument is a dominating structure along the river-front. There are some great panoramic views from the top (or at least from what I saw of Alex’s pictures that he took when he went up, while I fell asleep in the sun waiting at the bottom…) The monastery and nearby park were also spectacular to look at, but with so much to do, we didn’t want to wait all day in the long queue.

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Sintra
If you’re spending more than a couple of days in Lisbon, then I would recommend the trip to Sintra – even though we did quite a lot of battling queues and tourist groups throughout the day, it was still worth it for me.

The Pena Palace is a rather quirky assortment of buildings – which originally started as a monastery. The surrounding park was huge, and we didn’t get anywhere close to walking around it all before our small trek to the Castle of the Moors. This also gave me some great opportunities for pictures (even if the lack of information at the very top was slightly disappointing).

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Our time in Lisbon was surprisingly busy – both with how much we did and the number of people around! We were extremely lucky once again with the weather (lots of sun), which made our time even more enjoyable. I would love to come back and explore more of Portugal, and maybe even learn some Portuguese other than ‘thank you’!

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Julius Caesar – at the Bridge Theatre

I was pretty excited about seeing this production, including visiting a new theatre, a brilliant cast, having standing tickets to get close to the action, and all the while contributing to my dissertation! We went during previews for the show, before its (now controversial) press night, so I really did have no idea what to expect. Well, I was amazed.

It’s performed in a modern political setting, including Caesar (played by David Calder) presented in direct parallel to Trump (with red caps on sale and all!), but in my opinion this made the play all the more engaging. In fact, if I had to sum up the play in one word, it would be just that: ‘engaging’. Our standing tickets only heightened this feeling, as we were used by the actors to be the people of Rome, whom throughout the play speeches are directed to, encouraging us to shout along to bring a real sense of community.

I was very conscious while writing this review about spoilers – I’m usually not so hesitant, but with the run continuing I don’t want to ruin the surprises. I will say though, that the way the staging is used is utterly brilliant, and like nothing I’ve seen before. It’s modern, unique and inventive, and certainly made this production for me. The sets move around quite a bit, and with it therefore also the standing audience, including to let the stage managers and actors past us. It was strange at first, but we all quickly got used to being moved about in a way that  mirrored Cassius’ manipulation of Brutus.

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David Morissey as Mark Anthony, surrounded by the promenading audience

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Hamilton LDN – in the Room Where it Happens!

I was lucky enough to see this highly anticipated musical last week. I was so excited, having listened to the original cast album since it came out, as well as attending a #Ham4Ham live when I went to New York. I think, as a result, I had subconsciously set my expectations quite high for this show – and yet, it certainly didn’t disappoint!

As can be expected from a new West End cast, the performances were all brilliant. Giles Terera, playing Aaron Burr, was captivating, and kept my attention whenever he spoke/sang (and rapped too, I guess!) which seems a perfect quality for his narrator-type role. He was definitely the star performer for me. The part of Hamilton is in safe hands with Jamael Westman, despite his limited professional experience. (I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t read about the controversial casting decision online.) I feel like a special note must be given to Christine Allado, playing Peggy/Maria. Her versatility of performance in these two very different characters is very well done, and her voice as Maria is stunning – she’s jaw-droopingly sultry and sexy as Maria. (I usually hate Hamilton in this moment, but if she was truly like that then I can’t really blame him!)

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Giles Terera as Burr

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2017 In Review

I can’t believe it’s already a new year – it seems the last few weeks have gone so quickly, with the end of term and Christmas festivities taking up all my spare time, and yet the year itself has seemed very long! I usually do my blog review before the new year, but this year has been so busy I didn’t have time, so I thought I would do it today instead.

Well, as usual, I’ve rounded up my favourite things from this year, so here we go!

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BOOK (FICTION): The Power, Naomi Alderman
Ever since I read this book over the summer I haven’t stopped thinking about it. (Particularly as I’m currently writing an essay about dystopian fiction and feminism for a university assessment!) If it isn’t already obvious from this blog I love dystopian fiction, and I really enjoyed the multiple character perspectives within this novel – not something you too often see in dystopia. If you haven’t read this book, then please do yourself a favour and pick up a copy! (See my full review here.) Continue reading