Jane Austen: Mansfield Park

From tomorrow, Jane Austen January moves onto:

Mansfield Park (1814)

Fanny Price has always felt like an outsider. She was adopted by her uncle as a child and now lives in luxury at Mansfield Park, but doesn’t fit in somehow. Shyer and much sweeter than the glamorous cousins she has grown up with, she feels she can only stand by and watch from the sidelines, never living her own life.

Fanny won’t admit - even to herself - who she really loves. Her uncle conducts the search for a husband as if it were a business deal, and when the time for Fanny to marry comes, will she be handed over on a handshake? Or will she have the strength to make her own mistakes - and finally find true happiness?

which will run until February 11th.

Please be aware comments on this post will contain spoilers for those who wish to discuss during their reading. If you don't want the book to be spoiled, wait until you've read it to comment and discuss! And remember to still discuss Sense & Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice.

Happy reading! :D

Costa Book Award

The Costa Book Award overall winner was revealed today. The nominees were:

The Outcast - Sadie Jones
The Secret Scripture - Sebastian Barry
Somewhere Towards the End - Diana Athill
The Broken Word - Adam Foulds
Just Henry - Michelle Magorian

and the winner was The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry.

Has anyone read any of these?

Book Review: Princess Diaries, Ten out of Ten (Forever Princess)

After nearly a decade of Princess Diaries books, Meg Cabot's final instalment of the series was released at the start of January this year.

Mia is about to turn eighteen and graduate at the start of the book, but she's putting off some pretty important decisions, like which college to go to. There's also the return of Michael, back from his success in Japan with the robotic surgery arm, and even though Mia has been with J.P since Michael left for Japan... it's Michael, isn't it!?

I'm not going to spoil this, but it was an enjoyable read, even though Mia and her friends at eighteen have become a teensy bit like the teens from shows like Gossip Girl/The Hills/Rich Girls, possibly because of Mia's friendship with previous enemy Lana. There's more brand mentions than before and Mia takes more pride in her appearance. As it is set two years after PD: IX, this transition is more noticeable as it is already established as a given.

But, the one thing that won me over with is that Mia has a big secret - she's actually written a book and is trying to get it published! I have to say, I could relate to her throughout because she keeps her book a secret and doesn't want people to know. I especially loved this bit:

I know it's bad to lie to your own mother. But if I told her what my book was *really* about, she'd want to read it. And there's *no way* I want Helen Thermopolis reading what I actually wrote. I mean, sex scenes and your mother? No thank you.

Despite her new-found clothing love (remember how she hated being dragged to Chanel in the earlier books?), the tone throughout is still Mia. She has grown-up, but she's not done a complete flip. I also love that Meg uses the book to highlight the brilliance of romantic fiction. Mia gets told she is wasting her time on writing romance fiction, even though she points out that 25% of novels published are romance novels (hurrah!). I also love this bit from one of her rejections:

Rejected again! Seriously, is the entire publishing world on crack? How can no one want to publish my novel? I mean, I know it's not War and Peace, but I've seen way worse out there. My book is better than that!

Obviously, in the end, she gets published though. You can even buy her book: Ransom My Heart.

All in all, it is a lovely end to the series and I'm sad that there will be no more Mia. All ten Princess Diaries books are light-hearted and enjoyable reads - if you're not already a fan, I thoroughly recommend that you get them read!

Paperback vs Hardback?

With my favourite authors, I tend to buy the hardback version of their books. For example, it was the hardback version of Bill Bryson's book, The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid, that I bought instead of the paperback version. Generally though, I will wait for the paperback version, and I definitely own more paperbacks than hardbacks.

How about everyone else? Do you prefer to buy paperback or hardback books? And is your preference influenced by the book and/or author? x

Book Review: Decent Exposure

Decent Exposure by Phillipa Ashley is one of those amazing books that makes it into my favourite book pile, and Phillipa was lucky enough to win the Joan Hessayon NWS Award (2007) for it - richly deserved!

Emma Tremayne has left her high-powered PR job and moved to the Lake District. She was expecting to find some much-needed peace and quiet, not to end up cavorting on a hillside with a naked guy. Emma thinks she's being community-minded when she agrees to help the local mountain rescue team put together a 'tasteful' nude calendar in order to fundraise for their new headquarters. 

Unfortunately, quite a lot of the community seems to mind what she's up to. Including the extremely handsome Mr July, Will, who appears to have got completely the wrong impression about Emma's intentions. So how does she convince him that he's more than just Flavour of the Month...?

First-up, let me tell you about Mr July, aka Will. (If you see this Phillipa, please tell me he exists!) Will is pure man - 6 foot plus and bulky - with a tender side. He's a local business man, member of the local mountain rescue team, but unfortunately one who has the reputation of being a womaniser... he left his fiancée at the altar. Emma is the one who wants to make the naked calender to raise funds for the local mountain rescue team. She's a modern woman you can relate with.

One of the great things about Decent Exposure is you get to read both Emma *and* Will's perspective. This only makes the heart swell (even more) when you read they want each other - the chemistry/tension between Will and Emma is crackling hot - yet they *still* struggle to get together because of issues from their (romantic) pasts.

I won't spoil whether they get their happily ever* but I will say it's all oh-so-delicious and enjoyable with the will they/won't they, perfectly enhanced by the lush setting of the Lakes. This is romance how it should be written, and it's a brilliant feel-good read! 5/5 from me.

JAJ: Pride and Prejudice

From tomorrow, Jane Austen January moves onto:

Pride and Prejudice (1813)

When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited; he is indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever. In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life.

which will run until January 28th.

Please be aware comments on this post will contain spoilers for those who wish to discuss during their reading. If you don't want the book to be spoiled, wait until you've read it to comment and discuss! And remember, you can still discuss Sense & Sensibility.

Happy reading! :D

My Biggest Critic

The photo to the left shows my biggest critic - not only when it comes to my writing, but when it comes to all aspects of my life. She is a slave-driver for the impossible perfection; she is the reason I push myself.

Yes, I am my biggest critic, but sometimes I need to stop this because I find it all too easy to highlight the negatives and forget all the hard-work I've put in.

When it comes to writing (or life in general), who is your biggest critic? Please tell me it's not just me who classes myself as my own worst nightmare! :p

Musical theatre review: Thriller Live

Thriller Live opened on the West End on January 2nd, 2009, at the Lyric Theatre. I went to see the evening performance on January 7th. In my time I've seen a lot of West End productions, plus I've also studied Drama and Theatre Arts - I know what to look for when I see a show. Usually though, I don't look for anything because it's on the West End. It's supposed to be, along with Broadway, the highest quality level of performance in the English-speaking world. I'm supposed to just enjoy myself.

The very first song - the very first line, in fact - was off-key. Ouch. It could have been nerves, but nerves aren't what people pay for because the top-price seats we had in the stalls cost £50.50 each. In fact, when the third song was also off-key, some people actually got up and walked out - in all my years of theatre-going, I have never seen that before.

After that, I couldn't help but notice other mistakes. One of the dancers actually stumbled forward on landing - it would have been less obvious/noticeable if she hadn't then turned around to glare at one of the other dancers. One of them lost a shoe. One of the belts came undone. At times, they weren't hitting their marks - they weren't staggering the stage properly - so the audience couldn't see all three "tiers" of performers since they were blocking the back performers. And the left and right mid-rigged lights were far too bright. For the West End, it just wasn't up to standard.

It's also a show with no story, just performances of Michael Jackson's songs (and the Jackson 5's), interspersed with some facts about MJ. Don't get me wrong though, the show wasn't all doom and gloom, and it did have some positives:
  • I loved the effects and dancing for Thriller
  • Dirty Diana was fab, too
  • The band were brilliant
  • All MJ's signature moves and high-pitched "woo-hoo" noises were perfectly imitated (although the crotch-grabbing and thrusting became a little too much!)
  • Denise Pearson was by far the best Michael Jackson with the best voice
  • Fabbity costumes.
I did enjoy it, but it didn't thrill me. In fact, if I wasn't lucky enough to go to the West End as much as I do, I would have been very disappointed, especially for the cost. I didn't get the feeling I usually get with musicals - the feeling of over-whelming exhilaration (explained here), which I did get that the next day with Billy Elliot (amazing).

My verdict? There are definitely better things to see on the West End than Thriller: Live. Go and see them instead.

I do have other interests, like musical theatre!

Okay, so at the request of Paula and Astharis, I'm also posting about other interests ... yes, I do have some! Today I start with musical theatre, fitting because I'm back in London for the rest of the week and whilst I'm there I'm going to see Billy Elliot: The Musical (if you spot a girl doing tour jetés down the King's Road or Cromwell Road, that will be me) and Thriller: Live (ditto, if you see a girl trying to moonwalk).

The first musical I ever saw on the West End was Fame - as far as introductions go to the West End musical scene, I'd say this is a good one to start with because (in case you've been living under a rock) Fame is all about students at a PA school who dream big and want to be performers. Brilliant, I loved it!

My *absolute* favourite musical has to be Mary Poppins (even though I've seen We Will Rock You more times - it's a close call for absolute favourite though). I saw this in the stalls, three rows centre from the stage - perfection - I swear, I cannot recall another solid (public) three hours where I had a constant perma-grin face. Scarlett Strallen was perfect as Mary Poppins! Great set, great score, great effects. It's the best!

Speaking of great effects, Lord of the Rings was utterly brilliant in that regard. I love The Lion King for its colourfulness; Chicago for its grittiness; The Phantom of the Opera for its magic. In fact, in the many musicals I have seen, there is always something I love... apart from one. I never thought I'd dislike a musical, but I changed my mind after seeing Les Misérables. It just didn't hold my attention and I felt bored throughout. Just me?

Anyway, the reason I love musicals? There's just something about them that makes me feel so alive through the exhilaration of it all; I feel captured, stirred and captivated from opening to end. Plus how entertaining is it to get to spend a few hours in a world where it is acceptable to randomly break into song and dance to share your worries and woes that inevitably arise. Musicals are utterly fabbity - they are like a fever to me - and I can't wait to get my next two doses (and all the doses that follow - I would like to see quite a few again, plus I've still not seen Avenue Q)!

Please tell me some of you are musical theatre fans? If so, what are your favourite shows? Are there any shows you are itching to see or would see over and over? Anyone been in a musical? Let me know! (And if you hate musical theatre, tell me why! Why aren't you embracing the flamboyance?)


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