In Which I Finally See Billy Elliot The Musical

This has been a long time coming. A very long time coming.

Billy Elliot has been on my list of musicals I’ve wanted to see for years, always there but another show kept turning up and taking it’s place when looking at what to see next. Shows which might not stay in the West End long enough for me to see them if I don’t see them right now.

But for the first time although Billy Elliot wasn’t the only show I wanted to see (dying to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and watch Les Mis again) but it was the musical I was most desperate to see and fortunately the tickets matched my budget at the right time (which was lucky as I booked the ticket quite last minute for me!)

So last Thursday I made the coach trip to London, went for a little wander along Victoria Embankment and saw a familiar bridge.

Millenium Bridge

And then walked on said familiar bridge…

Millenium Bridge

Fortunately there were no dementors around :)

After a bit of a rush back I was outside my favourite London theatre – the Apollo Victoria Theatre….

Apollo Victoria Theatre

*ahem* fortunately this just across the road from the Victoria Palace Theatre. I was ready for the show to begin…

Victoria Palace Theatre

Billy Elliot if you didn’t know is the story of a boy who discovers he wants to dance but set against the strikes in the mines a boy who wants to dance isn’t the kind of thing that goes down particularly well.

It was amazing. Perfect. Brilliant. Superb. Incredible.

Okay, okay – I’ll stop now.

As you might have guessed Billy Elliot is much more dance heavy than other musicals, I mean what other show will you see police and miners in an epic dance battle with young girls and Billy having a ballet lesson in the middle.

Talking about the young cast, they were superb and brought a fun and bright side to the show – and I have to give a massive shout out to the boy who played Michael (I wish I remembered his name!) – he was so much fun – I can’t picture the show without him! :)

Which brings me to another point that the show has elements which would fit right at home in a modern contemporary story – it shows the miners strikes from the eyes of a young person and how they effect the whole family.

I’ve been listening to the cast recording for months already so I knew the music was superb but seeing the show really brings it to life.

Oh and don’t ignore the seats at the front of the theatre because of their restricted view marker – I was in seat B22 which is the very front row on the left side of the stalls. It’s marked as restricted view because of the very high stage but really – the view is fine and for little more than £20 you can hardly go wrong.

Though I’m sure I kept catching several members of the casts eye – though I hope I’m imagining it! Eek!

Overall, an awesome show – if you haven’t seen it – what are you waiting for?

Book Review: Hacked By Tracy Alexander

Book Review: Hacked By Tracy Alexander

Author: Tracy Alexander

Publisher: Piccadilly Press

From Amazon
Dan had been diagnosed as ADHD as a child. He quite liked the ritalin, but then he got into computers, and for his parents a geek was better than something feral. It was hard to remember when the genuine hacking started; free phone credit was the first illicit, tangible real-life result of a hack, though not the last. By the time Dan is contacted online by Angel, he is eager for the challenge laid before him creating tricky bits of code. But Dan begins to suspect that something more nefarious may be planned for his code than he thought. He will have to decide what truly matters more protecting his anonymity and freedom or preventing a deadly terror attack . . .

Review
As someone who has spent the vast majority of my life near a keyboard, mouse and monitor it’s probably no surprise that this book appealed to me. And appeal to me it did. :)

Hacked is the story of Dan whose life online got him rather more than he bargained for. He got involved in something which progressively found himself digging bigger and bigger holes for himself.

I don’t really want to say too much more than this for fear of spoiling it so I’ll stop there on the story details :)

So, lets instead talk about Dan, I can so easily see how he got himself into the mess to begin with and I loved watching it unravel. There are moments that he shows himself to have a true strength of character. Where he’s in a position to make decisions – decisions where neither outcome is a particularly happy one – but where one is probably what he should choose. And yes he has to decide because to do nothing in this case is making a decision too!

I really liked the unusual way Tracy used usernames for characters (particularly Angel) which we only meet online – not always revealing their real names, shrouding the place in secrecy which makes the twists and turns much harder to spot. It leaves you never really sure about each characters motives which moves me back onto Dan…

Because as much as Dan had a strong strength of character he did seem to dig himself into the hole without too much help. Considering how bright he must be to crack the hacking puzzles it does seem that maybe, just maybe he was a little too trusting.

Oh and as an added bonus you do get a little peak at Bristol as this book is mainly set here – just saying! ;)

Overall, Hacked is a thrilling and fast paced story which won’t take long to take hold and leave you begging for me. Don’t dismiss is just because you think hacking is boring or uninteresting – this book might just surprise you :)

Thanks to the author for sending me a copy to review

Book Series Review: Penny Dreadful By Joanna Nadin

Something a little bit different from me today :)

Over the past few months I had a rather Brilliant Idea(TM) and have been spending my coach journeys to London (and back again!) reading a, um – short story series by Joanna Nadin which goes by the name of Penny Dreadful and they are, well – rather good!

Book Series Review: Penny Dreadful By Joanna Nadin

Rather than review each of the seven books individually I thought it made more sense to pool them into one post.

First point – this series has no relation to the television series of the same name.

Each of the seven books follows Penny on three individual short adventures. Not quite sure that’s quite the right word but I’ll stick with it.

The best way I can think of describing Penny (and therefore the stories) are that Penny is a magnet for disaster (like what I did there? Never mind!). Anything that can go wrong with Penny around generally does. Think of it a bit like the butterfly effect…

Penny has a Brilliant idea(TM) and this sets off a rather hilarious chain reaction of events which affects those around her. From damaging special cakes, supergluing items to things which ought not be superglued and much more.

They are in essence fun and quick reads which at the least will raise a smile and may at points have you having to hiccup back a laugh on the coach *ahem* :)

It’s worth pointing out that it’s not always totally Penny’s fault, there’s a whole cast of her friends to keep an eye out for who might have something to answer for – Cosmo, her best friend can often be found supplying *helpful* ideas and let us not forget the headmaster who is always ‘Sick and Tired’ – I can’t imagine why? hehe ;)

I loved how many of the stories did make casual references to each other (which gives a few hints about what you might not have read yet) but they each stood completely on their own. You could quite literally pick any of the stories (say start with the 2nd story in book 4) and you wouldn’t get lost. I did for once read them in the published order but you really don’t have to. None of them assume any prior knowledge of the characters and each character is introduced as if you haven’t met them before.

Credit also has to go to Jess Mikhail whose illustrations were as much a part of the stories as the story themselves, they were interwoven into the text and brought the fun of the words to life.

Written for younger readers the Penny Dreadful series is a fun collection of stories which is sure to raise a smile and brighten a dreary morning Monday ride to work or looonngggg coach trip to London! :)

Book Review: Geek Drama By Holly Smale (Geek Girl World Book Day 2015 Book)

Book Review: Geek Drama By Holly Smale (Geek Girl World Book Day 2015 Book)

Author: Holly Smale

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books

From Amazon
“My name is Harriet Manners, and I am a geek.”

Harriet Manners knows that the hottest observed place on earth is Furnace Creek in Death Valley.

She knows that dolphins shed the top layer of their skin every two hours.

And she knows just how badly auditions can go, especially when you’re a model.

But she has no idea how to get herself out of the extreme embarrassment of the school play or what to do when arch-nemesis Alexa decides it’s the perfect opportunity to humiliate her…

Can GEEK GIRL survive the bright lights of the stage?

Review
This is the first World Book Day £1 book I’ve bought in YEARS but we’re talking about our favourite red head and her bestest-best stalker friend, Harriet & Toby. How could I refuse? Answer – I. Could. Not!!! :)

Geek Drama is set between books 1 and 2 and tells the story of Harriet and Natalie as they take on their next adventure. Forget about the modelling, this one’s all about the drama – Shakespeare to be more specific.

It’s all the fun and joy you’d expect from a Geek Girl story wrapped up into a smaller package. We’ve got Harriet – the girl who is like a walking, talking Wikipedia – full of facts – many of which you never really know but will find interesting and surprisingly relevant to the various different scenarios she finds herself wrapped up in.

Then, Toby – super stalker extraordinaire – he takes his stalking very seriously don’t you know and as it seems in every Geek Girl book he deserves a special mention and I can’t deny him one in this book either. He calls himself stalker – I’d say more super friend. He’s got Harriet’s back whether she wants it or not. Is there a Toby fan club somewhere I can join? :)

Wilbur is back of course and the parents are just as perfectly bonkers – well Richard is anyway, Annabel is more level headed. The pair of them just work, always have done and I’m sure will continue to do so!

There is a bit of modelling reference in this story but it’s much less relevant – this is much more like a homegrown contemporary. One much more local with friendship at it’s heart.

Pure and simple it’s Geek Girl in a small form, it’ll whet your appetite for the series if you haven’t tried it yet without being too spoilery and is a pleasantly quick pick me up for those of us who are already massive fans of the series.

Book Review: The Art Of Being Normal By Lisa Williamson

Book Review: The Art Of Being Normal By Lisa Williamson

Author: Lisa Williamson

Publisher: David Fickling Books

From Amazon
Two boys. Two secrets. David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl. On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year 11 is definitely not part of that plan. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long …

Review
I’ve only read one other book similar to The Art Of Being Normal (Alex As Well if you were wondering which was pretty special) but this book is something else.

Meet David and Leo, two boys and two secrets they’re not particularly keen on spilling. Lets start with David, he comes from a very supportive family – a family who clearly cares for him and who just happen to be expecting him to come out to them…

Except the thing he’s going to come out to them might not be exactly what they are expecting. You see David was born a boy but wants to be a girl.

I loved David so much, his need to be a girl isn’t just a whim or a phase – it’s something he has thought a long time about. He’s curated a collection of female clothes and wigs, he’s written numerous letters to his parents explaining what he wants all while his body is having other ideas.

He just hasn’t quite found the courage to tell his family though and it’s throughout the course of this book and the events which unfold that at once give him more confidence to be who he really is and also cautions him of what he might face. Quite simply he grows and comes out at the end a person who is not only prepared to take the next step (whatever that might be) but also as a stronger person (and lets face it he’s pretty strong to start with).

But there is more to The Art of Being Normal than a story about gender, it’s a story which gives us a front row access to the experience of being bullied (in more than one way) and how it can grow from a seed of name calling to something much worse.

And…

Wait, there’s more??? Well, yes as it it happens but I’ll let you discover that for yourself – I’ll just say that although this book is a book with a strong transgender theme – there are other stories running through which support it and put it into context.

The special mentions for this review (there are two of them – aren’t we lucky!) go to the boys sisters, Livvy and Tia. They brightened the page and acted like beacons of sunshine when the boys were a bit down.

P.S Did anyone else always think of Spike from Buffy The Vampire Slayer whenever Spike was mentioned?

..

Just me then hehe ;)

Overall, The Art of Being Normal is a book which tackles a lot but which will guide you by the hand. Yes it will probably break your heart in a few places but it will then help put it back together again (be rude not to really).

Which all leads me to ask the question – is there really any such thing as normal? Because I’m not so sure!

Book Review: Starring Kity (Reel Friends #1) By Keris Stainton

Book Review: Starring Kity (Reel Friends #1) By Keris Stainton

Author: Keris Stainton

Publisher: Catnip Publishing

From Amazon
The first in a new series about first love and friendship by much-loved teen author Keris Stainton

Sometimes the greatest love stories happen behind the scenes…
Kitty’s keeping secrets. Like how she’s struggling to cope with her mum’s illness. And how she’s falling for the girl with the purpley-red hair… A fun film competition with her friends Sunny and Hannah seems like the perfect distraction. But then Dylan wants to be more than Kitty’s secret. Is Kitty ready to let her two worlds meet or will she risk losing Dylan forever?

Review
I’m so behind and probably one of the last bloggers to read Starring Kitty but boy was it well worth the wait. :)

Aside from Keris, one of the things that attracted me to this book was the idea of this film competition – it sounded like something a little bit different, something the three friends could do with each other and that could provide a backdrop to other things going on in their lives.

If you take gender out of the equation what you have in Starring Kitty is pure and simple a sweet contemporary romance, one that deals with things every day teen deal with. Add it back in and you have a sweet contemporary romance which deals with things every teen deals with plus an angle on falling for someone from the same gender.

It’s so brilliantly done and so sweet that I want to give this book a big old hug. This is a story of first love and discovery which takes a look at bulling told in a way that makes it accessible and entertaining to read.

I loved Kitty and her friends, I loved how they supported each other and pulled each other back up – as a team they would be hard to beat – they have a very much can do attitude. Individually they’re great but as a team they’re pretty darn strong! :)

And I have to mention Dylan, from the moment she appears on the page you can tell there’s something in the air!

Overall, Starring Kitty is a sweet contemporary romance with characters as rich and real as you would find in real life.

Cartoon Jazz At The Colston Hall

Cartoon Jazz At The Colston Hall

While all the excitement was going down in London yesterday I was closer to home for something a little bit different, something a little bit fun and a little bit completely awesome.

I’m talking about Cartoon Jazz at The Colston Hall, Bristol.

It was the first time I’d stepped inside this well known Bristol building and I wasn’t really sure what to expect – essentially the Colston Hall is a big hall (makes sense really), it’s not quite as grand and comfortable as a theatre but from the moment you see the stage you can see why it was the perfect venue.

Seats raked up showcasing the choir who were made up from various smaller choirs (including my Mum), most from Bristol and some further afield from a whole range of ages and in a dazzling array of cartoon bright colours.

The show itself was made up of cartoon songs (many of them Disney) rejigged to give them a jazz edge – some of them were pretty special – Under The Sea from The Little Mermaid and a couple from The Jungle Book. Some didn’t work quite as well – Let it Go from Frozen lacked the power it has in its original form in a jazz arrangement.

I have to give a nod to the band as well, who were awesome! I mean whats not to love – saxophone, trumpets, clarinet, flute, piano and more :)

But overall Cartoon Jazz was a fun hour or so, putting a very different twist on some favourite cartoon tunes.

Cartoon Jazz was part of Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival.

My Handy Dandy Guide To Booking Theatre Tickets

My Handy Dandy Guide To Booking Theatre Tickets

I love going to the theatre so much but I’m quite picky about where I like to sit and now that most ticket agents provide interactive seating maps you could say I’ve got even more picky.

So this is my handy dandy guide to booking theatre tickets – also known as how to get good seats at the right price.

Ready? :)

So you’ve picked the show and date – all is well and there are tickets available the first thing to think about is who to book with.

Ticket Agent

This might seem like a no brainer – go with who you trust, But. But. But. But. Every ticket agent has a a different selection of tickets available (you can’t generally book the same seat with two different ticket agents as far as I’m aware) so I always look at a few namely:

  • Theatre box office
  • See Tickets (no interactive ticket map – boo)
  • Ticketmaster (using less and less as they’re shifting their focus to music events)

There are also others who generally have good deals but watch out for their booking fees as this can so often eat away at the savings using them (seriously I’ve seen booking fees upwards of £7 on some of these ticket agents making them considerably more expensive so I don’t personally use them – the ones above range from £0 – £2.50 aprox.)

Word of warning: make sure whoever you buy from is a STAR ticket agent and all should be well

Choosing Seats

Ah, yes – the interactive ticket map – I love this service now offered by many ticket agents – no longer do you have to rely on a computer to tell you which seats are the ‘best available’ – especially as my idea of the best available doesn’t normally match what the computer thinks.

I love that the interactive ticket maps allow you to select the area and the individual seat without having to focus on the price (they show this too) but I don’t look at this first.

I always sit in the stalls and normally as close to the stage as I can for a couple of reasons – I’m reasonably tall so the front stalls seats have plenty of legroom so I don’t get cramped and they just so happen to right in front of the orchestra pit (I love looking down at the orchestra – you do not know how much I would love to experience being in the pit during a performance! :D)

Back to the point, the interactive maps show the available seats and the price – what I now do is do some view checks. I now use two websites to check if a seat is worth booking.

Theatremonkey

I discovered Theatremonkey when I ran a musical blog and they have the most comprehensive London theatre seat maps which indicate at a glance which seats are worth buying and which ones are best avoided. Tip avoid the red ones and try and go for the green ones.

Steve also gives summaries of the reasons seats have been highlighted the way they have – it’s a must use resource.

And if you’d rather look at the maps in book form then the Theatremonkey book is a very wise buy indeed (disclaimer: I was sent a copy but I’d recommend it anyway!)

Seatplan

I only discovered Seatplan yesterday but from what I can see it’s another very useful resource allowing users to post reviews and even photos of the view from the seat.

It’s not exhaustive and there are very large holes in some of the seat plans but being able to see the view before you buy is very helpful and help you decide if the ‘restricted view’ in spite of discount is worth going for.

Together these two resources can help take the guesswork out of choosing which seats to book.

Do you have any tips for getting the best seats at the best prices?

The Harry Potter Re-Read #2: Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets By JK Rowling

The Harry Potter Re-Read #2: Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets By JK Rowling

This post has been a long time coming considering I finished Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets about 2 or so weeks ago but hey, ho. :)

So in The Chamber of Secrets we see the three friends (and co) head into the second year of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – the characters have grown up by a year, something which I do love about this series and they find themselves at the centre of another mystery.

Namely the chamber of secrets – does it exist? And if so where on earth is it?

On reading this and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone again I have come to the realisation that there is so much more to be found in the Harry Potter books and the way they build up on re-reading, much more so than I first realised. There are so many levels, so many!

The seemingly erm, innocent encounter with the snake in book 1 takes on much more significance in book 2 (and indeed even more so later on the series). I love so much how the characters grow, even the difference between book 1 and book 2 although slight you can already tell that each one has their own story arch to follow.

I also loved getting to know even more of the magical world – as Harry discovers more parts of it so do we, not just magical properties for instance Floo powder but also the physical magical world like The Burrow.

Once again it was completely apparent so much of the story had been missed out by the film – there’s just so much detail and depth in the book than the film could possibly capture. Favourite scene now has to go to de-gnoming.

Credit has again got to go to Jonny Duddle for the covers – I LOVE THEM SO, SO, SO MUCH – it has to be said they convinced me to finally buy the series again (I just hope I’ve bought them all before they change again – I guess this will at some point!)

I’ve not really progressed much more with Pottermore since my last post but I will try to post some kind of update in the next post.

I’ll also add that as part of this re-read I’m also going to buy all of the companion books and then watch all of the films – posting reviews of these too. :)

After writing this post I want to grab a copy of Harry Potter and the Prison of Azkaban right now! :)

Book Review: Secrets, Schemes & Sewing Machines By Katy Cannon

Book Review: Secrets, Schemes & Sewing Machines By Katy Cannon

Author: Katy Cannon

Publisher: Stripes Publishing

From Amazon
Secrets, Schemes and Sewing Machines is the companion novel to Katy Cannon’s delicious teen read, Love, Lies and Lemon Pies. Grace had a plan for this year – and it didn’t involve learning to sew. But when her world is turned upside down by a family secret, everything changes. Grace’s family is in need of patching up and she’s trying to focus on what really matters. But when new boy Connor appears on the scene, it doesn’t make things any easier. She’s desperate to prove to him that she’s not a drama queen – but why is what Connor thinks so important? Katy Cannon is a hot new voice in Young Adult fiction, writing contemporary romance that is perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen and Louise Rennison. Praise for Love, Lies and Lemon Pies: “A delightful, delicious and feather-light romance that still manages to deal beautifully with some deep issues.” Robin Stevens, author of Murder Most Unladylike

Review
Under a year ago Love, Lies & Lemon Pies hit bookshelves, it was a book which hooked me with the idea of recipes to begin each chapter and I loved the story – it was a breath of fresh air as is so often said.

Roll onto 2015 and Secrets, Schemes and Sewing Machines hits the shelves – I have to be honest it wasn’t the sewing projects at the beginning of each chapter which made me want this book. It was the fact that it was written by Katy Cannon.

I can’t really call Secrets, Schemes and Sewing Machines a sequel – I think of it more as a companion book. Sure it sits alongside Love, Lies & Lemon Pies and it does revisit the same friend group. And I have to say I really loved seeing Lottie and friends again and seeing what they were up to. :)

This story however places the emphasis on Grace…

Grace was planning on landing the lead role in the school play like she does every year but things don’t exactly go to plan and her year takes an unexpected direction. A direction I personally think is good for her, okay things maybe didn’t go to plan but she grew as a person. I think she discovered herself and become more rounded as the book went on.

And we can’t talk about Grace without talking about Connor. I really loved Connor, he was skeptical of Grace to begin with (and I think having known Grace we all would be) but I loved watching them get to know each other. I loved how they tested each other and each pushed the other to reveal more about themselves.

Moving onto the sewing projects, these move from the simplistic to the more advanced but I think it bears in mind to point out the authors note at the beginning of the book that you’ll want to try some basic sewing techniques first tackling them if you decide to. :)

A bit like Love, Lies & Lemon Pies this book did deal with hard to deal with issues but wrapped them beautifully in a way that added depth without becoming too deep and serious.

A fun and light hearted contemporary which doesn’t shy away from tough issues.

Thanks to Stripes for sending me a copy for review.