Monday, 29 February 2016

Reading Round-Up: Jan/Feb 2016

As it's the start of a new year, I've decided to start a new regular feature here on TWG. I've seen a lot of other book bloggers do a regular round-up of the books they've read and acquired over a certain period of time, so it's about time I kicked off my own bi-monthly reading round-up!

Out are the books I've read over the last two months, in are the books I've acquired in that time, and wishlist are the books I've stumbled across and want to read at some point (but don't own a copy... yet).

  • Sing Me to Sleep by Chris Simms
  • Time and Time Again by Ben Elton
  • Night Owls by Jenn Bennett 
  • The Taxidermist's Daughter by Kate Mosse
  • The Last Book of Salem by Katherine Howe
  • Confessions of a New York Taxi Driver by Eugene Salomon 
  • I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
  • There But For The by Ali Smith 
  • Tears of Blood (#1-3) by M.R. Forbes
  • The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell 
  • The Sisters by Claire Douglas 
  • Us by David Nicholls 
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • Paper Towns by John Green
  • Landline by Rainbow Rowell
  • The Baller by Vi Keeland
  • Remembrance (The Mediator #7) by Meg Cabot
  • Madame Tussaud's Apprentice by Kathleen Benner Duble
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
  • The Chimes by Anna Smaill
  • Orfeo by Richard Powers
  • Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys 
  • Twisted Mind (Chequered Flag #2) by Mia Hoddell 
  • The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
What have you been reading recently? Have you read a book I should know about? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 26 February 2016

Book Review: Langston's Daughters by Juliette Harper

AD* | Kate, Jenny, and Mandy. Langston Lockwood’s daughters.

His tyranny drove them away. His suicide draws them home. They inherit his land, his millions, and his mysteries.

Meet the women of the Rocking L and the men who come into their lives. Together, they begin the journey to discover the truth about The Lockwood Legacy. From the pain of the past they find the strength to build a dynasty.

Langston's Daughters is the first book of the four-part Lockwood Legacy series by the duo writing under the pseudonym of Juliette Harper. It follows the three Lockwood sisters, Kate, Jenny and Mandy, as they return to their childhood home deep in rural Texas, following their father's death.

An introduction

As this is the first book of the series, it's little more than a set-up for the following books. I haven't read the other books, but if you want to get any sense of completion and have read a full narrative, there's not really any way around buying the boxset!

Because of that, Langston's Daughters can't really be described as a stand-alone novel. You're left partway through the action on a cliff-hanger, poised to find out what happens next. Now, I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of cliff-hanger endings. In my opinion, a book (regardless of whether it's part of a series or not) should be self-contained. It should have its own beginning, middle and end and yes, fair enough if it has threads tied in which are picked up in the next book, but each book of the series should also have its own story arc which finishes at the end of the individual book. The problem with the book is that it reads as a part of a larger work that has just been chopped up into separate books to get more money out of readers.

Easy, quick read

Despite the fact this book is little more than set-up for the rest of the series, I still enjoyed it. It's quite a short book and a very easy, quick read (I read it in an afternoon) so it's understandable that parts felt quite rushed. The story as a whole seemed to progress very fast - for example one minute a character was adamant she wouldn't do something, next she completely changed her mind. That made the story hurtle on to the end at breakneck pace!

The characters were one of the best parts of the story. All three Lockwood girls were individual, yet shared some key traits that made it instantly obvious they were related. Plus they were all interesting in their own right - I enjoyed reading about each of them and the way they adjusted to the events that took place in the book. Each girl had a love interest who fitted their personality perfectly. Some of the romance also felt a little rushed, but I get the feeling they will be explored further in the rest of the series.

I've never been to Texas (I've never even been to the US) but this is one of those books where the setting speaks for itself. I could easily imagine the rolling landscape of the ranch and surrounding countryside perfectly, and it's obvious that the writer knows the landscape inside out.

Rating: 3 stars.

A super quick western chick-lit and a good introduction to the series, Langston's Daughters is available to buy now.

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

Have you read Langston's Daughters? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 22 February 2016

Book Review: My Stratford Friend by Dominick Reyntiens

AD* | "I have hanged more men for what they have written than for what they have done."

This quote from Queen Elizabeth I’s most savage enforcer, Richard Topcliffe, goes straight to the heart of the world that surrounds Tom Wickham – a stable boy who, by the circumstances of his birth, becomes young William Shakespeare’s closest friend.

Warwickshire was one of the last Catholic outposts of Tudor England. History is written by the victors, but this is a story of a torn and bloody country as seen through the tear-stained eyes of the vanquished. The layers of Tom and Will’s turbulent environment are peeled back, revealing passion, love and desire fighting for oxygen on the face of a spiralling mountain of fear and retribution.

Without a doubt, William Shakespeare is one of the greatest (if not the greatest) writers of all time. But beyond the famous plays and sonnets, what do you know about the bard himself?

In a great blend of fact and fiction, author Dominick Reyntiens seeks to discover the secrets of the great man's childhood, expertly weaving tale after tale of the young Will's adventures. Large swathes of the story are purely fictional, yet key people and defining moments from Shakespeare's life are present. This really brings the story to life - you feel like you're right there in the middle of Stratford peering in through the window of John Shakespeare's workshop, or riding alongside the characters as they head down narrow country lanes, or even experiencing the dirty, busy, smog-filled streets of Tudor London for the first time.

A great deal of research

Reyntiens is an expert storyteller, and the research he has put into this book from start to finish is clear to see on every page. Every detail is accurate; it's a pleasure to read a historical novel that is so steeped in its time and period of history.

The settings are a particular favourite of mine. Rich in description, from the poorest shack to the most lavishly decorated room, it only makes it easier to picture yourself in the story. Not forgetting the many plentiful descriptions of the Warwickshire countryside - by the end of the book you almost feel like you live there yourself!

Fratres in lacte

Our narrator and main character, Tom Wickham, is Will's closest friend. He works as a stable boy in his father's livery, and comes from a more lowly class than the Shakespeare family themselves. Regardless, the boys share a bond for life - as Will puts it, Tom is 'meus fratre in lacte.'

Sadly, Tom is an entirely fictional character, which is a shame because he's an incredibly interesting and surprisingly insightful narrator.

Throughout the book, little snatches and references to Will's future works are mentioned. Some are subtle hints, others are much more obvious, but either way, it's nice to see how the events of the past shaped some of Shakespeare's greatest work (in the fictional world of the book, anyway).

Fan of Shakespeare or not, this is a really interesting historical read, full of larger-than-life characters and fantastic detail.

Rating: 3 stars.

My Stratford Friend is available to buy now.

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

Will you be reading My Stratford Friend? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 19 February 2016

The Bloggers vs Compers Debate

The debate between bloggers and compers has been going on for what feels like forever. Both sides think they're in the right, which means things have a tendency to get a little heated when one side says something the other disagrees with.

But for those that don't know, what's it all about?

Let's start with the basics.

Compers are people who regularly enter competitions. Most compers do it as a hobby or a way to get things they could never usually afford, but some people, known as extreme compers, see it as a career, and can enter hundreds of competitions every day.

Now, for whatever reason, a lot of bloggers have a negative opinion of compers. Many smaller bloggers fund their giveaways themselves and run them with the intention of gaining more followers/readers from the exercise. Therefore, when their giveaway post is flooded with entries from compers, it's understandable some get a little annoyed.

The minority give the majority a bad name

The problem lies with the minority of compers giving the majority a bad name. The minority are those compers who go to a blog with the sole purpose of entering a giveaway, complete the steps required to enter, then are never heard of again. They're the types of empty, spammy-looking profiles you see, the ones that make you question if they're actually a real person or not.

So when a blogger sees their giveaway inundated with entries from profiles like these, that's when the problems arise. Bloggers don't consider these people to be engaging followers, because more often than not, they aren't. Another bugbear for bloggers is when compers repeatedly follow their blog/social media channels when a giveaway is running, then unfollow as soon as the giveaway finishes. Compers like these are not the quality, engaged followers the blogger hoped the giveaway would attract.

Now we know what the problem is, but who's in the right?

The short answer is that both sides have valid points.

Bloggers have the right to be frustrated with spam accounts and the minority of compers practising bad habits who take advantage of their giveaways. However, this doesn't excuse those bloggers who tar all compers with the same brush, and it definitely doesn't excuse those bloggers who try to ban compers from entering their giveaways (not least because it's technically against the CAP Code and ASA's rules).

But on the other hand, compers have the right to be treated fairly by bloggers. The majority of compers do nothing wrong, and I think it would surprise a great deal of bloggers how many compers are actually regular readers of their blog as well. On the flipside though, compers who search for 'anti-comper' bloggers and proceed to start a witch-hunt against them are no better than the bloggers they think they have the moral high ground against.

I see where both groups are coming from

Personally, I find it hard to stick with one side over the other on this debate. As both a blogger and a comper, I empathise with both groups on different points. When I run giveaways, I'm happy for compers to enter them, and I know compers have won at least some of my past giveaways. I'm also incredibly grateful to other bloggers when I win items from their giveaways.

I know several other people who are also bloggers and compers, and it offers a very interesting view on the subject. However, to make this as fair as possible, I opened the debate up to get people's opinions from both sides.

The Money Shed on Twitter said:
London Bird Lucy said:

"I have two hobbies; comping and blogging. I love both - I like winning things, I also enjoy being creative when I write my blog. I like the company of both compers and bloggers; the communities are similar, I have friends in both. I don't like that there is a divide for some people. After all, we are all consumers."

Rachel from Parenthood Highs and Lows said:

"I was blogging for a while before I started comping, but the two seemed to work well together. I enjoyed running competitions on my blog, and started to make friends with one or two compers who entered regularly, and we became friends on Facebook. I started entering blog competitions and was quite lucky, so moved onto entering any competition that I came across. I've made lots of friends through comping, won some lovely stuff (nothing huge sadly!!) and last June started a group on FB called 'Comper Friendly Blog Competitions' for bloggers to share their competitions with compers. It all started after seeing a huge argument on Twitter where some big name bloggers were trying to ban compers. Now we have about 1600 members sharing and entering blog competitions in the group."

Leanne said:

"I'm not an everyday blogger, I post relevant posts so don't post every day. But I love competitions and bringing the two together works! Like all blogs, they help so many people in all areas. And I disagree that some bloggers say compers can't enter. My opinion is that they are people too! Just because they blog, doesn't mean you shouldn't win." 

Carol said:

"I am a comper only. I haven't time for blogging, though I wish I had. Simply put, as I tell bloggers, don't run comps that come out of your own pocket if you can't afford them. Just use the prizes given to you by companies. The main moan is that most compers don't stay around. As I told bloggers, companies love us compers. We give them free advertisement in more ways than just saying who we won through. We share, we talk about them with our friends, online and off. They reach a far bigger audience.

I explain this to others and to bloggers. I also say that, like anything, most don't stay around. However, some do, and it drip feeds how you pick up followers. I have stayed on some blogging sites. I have also found companies I would never have heard of if it wasn't for competitions through companies and bloggers. Both can compliment each other, however most bloggers have to have that explained to them."

Rebecca from Mum of a Premature Baby said:

"I fell into comping first. I was pregnant with my first child and was looking for free baby samples. I discovered competitions for baby items then subsequently found parenting blogs hosting competitions too. A year later, when my son was 4 months old, I started my own parenting blog because I liked the idea of writing about his life. Everything grew, I blogged a lot and got to offer my readers competitions prizes, but I was an avid comper too. I'm very 'comper friendly' and would never exclude anyone. I think I'd be a bit hypocritical if I did, considering I started as a comper too! I'll be completely honest and say that I love the traffic that compers bring me when I run a giveaway, and lots of them stay as readers which is nice. 

Being a blogger and a comper, I do sometimes see people complaining that bloggers seem to win a lot. I find that bloggers just know more tips and tricks. For example, with Rafflecopter and Gleam comps that are hosted on blogs. If there are daily entries via tweeting, I'll make sure I go back every day to do that tweet because from running my own, I know that the people who put more effort in DO seem to win more." 

Louise Rose said:
Super Lucky Di said:

"The compers vs bloggers battle has been raging for a while, and as someone with years of experience as both a blogger and comper I can see it from both sides. In the UK, every promoter should follow the CAP Code - even a blogger giving away a spare mascara needs a set of terms and conditions and must 'deal fairly and honourably with participants'. Excluding people from a giveaway because their hobby is entering competitions simply isn't fair. Particularly when those particular entrants do a rather fine job of telling the world to visit a blog via posts of Twitter, Facebook and competition forums!

On the other hand, I do appreciate that most bloggers prefer to target a specific audience. If that's the case, they should avoid hosting giveaways with a simple entry method. Instead, ask people to put thought into their entry, and keep it relevant to the blog - it might be a detailed review of a beauty product, a travel photograph submitted on Instagram or sharing an original recipe. If a blogger is keen to reward regular readers, they could start a mailing list and run the promotion via the newsletter. Don't want a stream of compers visiting via a link on the MoneySavingExpert forum? Then create imaginative barriers to entry, rather than simply banning 'competition accounts'. Ask readers to comment about their favourite books, moisturisers or spices - that will filter out any lazy entrants who aren't bothered about the prize!"

Chloe from The Life of a Student Comper said:

"I can understand why bloggers are against compers in that they feel the prize should be rewarded to someone they consider a 'loyal follower' instead of a comper. However, in doing their giveaways they are trying to advertise and attract more attention for their blog, and through compers getting involved and liking and sharing their posts this gives them the publicity that they originally wanted. In fact many compers have also stated that they have found out many unique blogs/companies that they now love and avidly follow, through comping. In addition, there are also a lot of compers who publicly thank the promoters of a competition when they win a prize, and this again gives them that extra publicity. Therefore, I feel in one sense compers help bloggers attract new loyal followers".

From the number of responses I received, it seems that a lot of people have opinions on this topic. We could easily talk round and round in circles about this, but at the end of the day it all comes down to a question of kindness and mutual respect. I know both bloggers and compers who are lovely people, but I've also had dealings with people from both groups who have been much less pleasant.

So, comper or blogger, my advice to you is this - try and see things from their perspective, and think about how you're treating people. Remember, kindness costs nothing.

Are you a blogger or a comper? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Number one campaign for tragic Viola Beach

* First published on Kettle Mag here.

By now I’m sure you will have all heard the tragic news about promising British indie band Viola Beach. Last Saturday, the band were killed after the car they were in plunged off a bridge into an icy canal in Sweden.

Band members River Reeves, 19, Jack Dakin, 19, Kris Leonard, 20, and Tomas Lowe, 27, were all killed, alongside their manager Craig Tarry, 32. They had been travelling back to Stockholm airport in the early hours of Saturday morning, after playing their first international gig just hours before.

The bridge they were crossing had been raised to allow a boat to pass underneath. Reports say the band’s car ploughed through safety barriers before crashing into the freezing water below.

Swedish police and officials are investigating, but it is still unclear what caused the crash.

Since the news broke, tributes have been pouring in.

Manchester City fans rallied on social media to arrange a round of applause to pay tribute to Craig Tarry, who was a big fan of the team, in the club’s recent match against Tottenham Hotspur.

Lots of people from the world of music are backing a campaign to get the band to number one in the UK charts. The band’s friends, family and fans are campaigning to get their independent, self-released single ‘Swings and Waterslides’ to the top spot.
The single is being pushed up the charts with the intention of sharing the band’s music with a wider audience of potential future fans. The hope is that despite the tragedy, the music they worked so hard to create will still be listened to and enjoyed by as many people as possible.
The campaign has so far been backed by artists including Liam Gallagher, Kasabian and The Script. At the time of writing, ‘Swings and Waterslides’ has just reached number 1 on the UK iTunes chart for the first time.

To pay tribute and do your bit, you can back the campaign by purchasing the single.

Are you supporting the campaign? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Book Review: The Bluffer's Guide to Social Media

AD* | Instantly acquire all the knowledge you need to pass as an expert in the world of social media. Know what to say, what not to say, what to post, what not to post, and what excuses to make if you don't know the difference between a tweet and a dweet, or even a retweet (which, any tweeple worth their salt will know is always called an RT).

Never again confuse a LOL with a ROFL, a selfie with a shelfie, or Godwin's Law with the Streisand Effect. Bask in the admiration of your fellow social media aficionados as you pronounce confidently on the chances of Facebook going the way of Friends Reunited and Bebo, and why MySpace could be the Casio keyboard of the 21st century.

Above all don't hold back when it comes to saying what you really think of trolls, pointing out that there has never yet been one who had a healthy mental attitude, a steady job and the requisite intelligence to write anything worth reading.

Do ask: What's the point of Tumblr?
Don't say: I've got this great idea for a blog on cats that look like biscuits.

If you haven't heard of the Bluffer's Guides before, where have you been? The bestselling series has been around for more than 40 years now, recently surpassing the impressive milestone of selling more than 5 million copies.

The Bluffer's Guide to Social Media is the latest book in the series, and as the name suggests, it gives you an insight into all things social media. Starting the title, I was a little wary of finding it to be merely dumbing down social media for the less tech-savvy, but luckily, I was pleasantly surprised. The guide is packed with interesting information, insights and tips, meaning it's perfect for those who are new to social media, as well as social media pros.

Stylish and easily navigable

It's laid out in a simple and easy to navigate way, while still looking stylish and attractive to the eye. Chapters are interspersed with quotes and further divided by easily navigable subheadings, meaning you can dip in and out of the book at will, and easily find specific sections to refer back to for future reference.

Covering all the online platforms as well as social media's surprisingly detailed history, there's something in the guide for everyone. At less than 150 pages it's short and concise, yet it's surprising just how comprehensive a guide is packed into its pages.

At the end of the day, it does what it says on the tin. You want a detailed, slightly quirky guide to social media? This is that book.

Rating: 3 stars.

The Bluffer's Guide to Social Media is available to buy now.

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

Are you a fan of Bluffer's Guides? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 12 February 2016

Super Bowl 50: A golden game?

* First published on Kettle Mag here.

Come the evening of February 7th, eyes around the world were on San Francisco’s Levi’s Stadium for Super Bowl 50. The final game of the 2016 season was about to play host to the long-awaited golden jubilee of America’s biggest game. Having battled through the regular season and post-season, it was time for the winners of the AFC Championship, the Denver Broncos, to take on the Carolina Panthers, the winners of the NFC Championship.

As you can see from my preview, both team’s quarterbacks are polar opposites. Super Bowl 50 would see the old-school Peyton Manning take on the exuberant Cam Newton. However, the true focus of the game would be on the surprisingly similar defenses.

Denver in control from the start

Denver opened the scoring with a field goal after a good opening drive. The Panthers struggled to respond against the league’s best defense. Carolina seemed to be lacking rhythm from the get-go, wasting first downs on runs.
Things went from bad to worse for Carolina when linebacker Von Miller took the ball from Newton, allowing Malik Jackson to recover the fumble for a touchdown. At the end of the first quarter, Denver were leading 10-0.

But the Panthers seemed to get back on track when RB Jonathan Stewart leaped over the pile for a touchdown in the second quarter. Brandon McManus added another field goal to the Broncos’ score before the half. Denver were leading 13-7 at the end of the first half.

Half-time flop?

As this was Super Bowl 50, big things were expected for the half-time show. British rock band Coldplay had been announced as the act for this year’s half-time show. However, following the success of Katy Perry (and Left Shark) last year, a lot of people were sceptical whether the right choice had been made for such a landmark show.

As Coldplay frontman Chris Martin told the press on media day, this year was supposed to encompass the past, present and future. So accordingly, previous performers Beyoncé and Bruno Mars were invited along.
On paper that sounds great, but in reality there was just too much going on. Beyoncé and Bruno Mars seemed to be battling it out for maximum airtime throughout their performances, which left Coldplay overshadowed. Strangely mesmerising dancers with vividly-coloured flowers floated around the rest of the field, adding to the general confusion and mish-mash of styles.

An ambitious idea, but sadly it didn’t quite work out.

Not Newton's night

Back to the football, where the only points of the third quarter came from another Denver field goal, as both defenses vied for control.

In the fourth, Carolina managed to cut Denver’s lead to 6 points thanks to a field goal by Graham Gano. However, mistakes from Carolina stopped them from closing the gap further. The Broncos sealed the win thanks to CJ Anderson’s touchdown run. The final score was 24-10 to Denver.
Cam Newton struggled to make plays all day against Denver’s defense. Newton was sacked 6 times, lost 2 fumbles, and threw an interception. Thanks to pressure from Wade Phillips’ unit, Newton was uncomfortable throughout the game, overthrowing receivers and unable to use his legs to make plays.

Manning's last game?

In what could have been his last game, Peyton Manning was serviceable if unspectacular, completing just 13 of his 23 passes for 141 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. However, he didn’t have to do much as the game was dictated by the defense.
Von Miller was named Super Bowl MVP (Most Valuable Player) for terrorising Newton with 2.5 sacks, setting up one of Denver’s scores.

Thanks to the Broncos’ defense, it looks like Peyton Manning may end his career on a high, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy one last time.

Did you watch the game? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Book Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

AD* | She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there's nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can't wait to escape from.

Destined to wind up "wed or dead," Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she'd gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan's army, with a fugitive who's wanted for treason. And she'd never have predicted she'd fall in love with him...or that he'd help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is.

First things first - I loved this book!

Rebel of the Sands is a fast-paced, adventurous read. It's YA, but it has elements of so many different genres thrown in that it shouldn't work, but it really does. Action, adventure, western, romance... this book has them all.

On top of all that, the book's reality is infused with magic. Some important themes are dealt with in the story. The harsh realities of living in an inhospitable place, rebellion and the fight for power (a very current issue in the world today), even what it means to be a woman and the problems women have living in an inherently male-oriented world.

Magic and myth

However, these issues aren't at the forefront of the book. The magic and myth surrounding the desert landscape is captivating, drawing you into the world Hamilton creates, weaving the story around the reader to keep you turning page after page.

I'm not usually a fan of the western genre in any medium, but the little touches of it present in this book are great, really adding to the story. The location and the inital set-up are classic western tropes (even if it is infused with fantasy), and further snatches of the genre surface at points throughout the book.

Rebel of the Sands is at its heart, a story of two characters. Eastern Snake and the Blue-Eyed Bandit - the two are what really brings this story alive. You have to admire their pluck and courage. No matter what situation arises and what they face, they go into everything head first without any doubts. Amani is one of the strongest female leads I've read about in a long time. She doesn't need her romance; she wants it. She's perfectly capable of taking care of herself, and doesn't need a man to fight her battles. She's smart and sassy, but not annoyingly so, and is a really strong, likeable character.

Vivid imagery

The locations and setting are another strong point. Hamilton writes in such a way that you can really picture everything she's talking about as if it's right there in front of you. She's not an overly descriptive writer, but the sparse description she does use is all you need. It's not flowery, it's not over-written, but it fits the whole nature of the book perfectly.

If you have a chance to read this book, I really recommend it. It's a great read and will be well worth your while. One of the most exciting books of the year so far!

Rating: 5 stars.

Rebel of the Sands is available to buy now.

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

Will you be reading Rebel of the Sands? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 5 February 2016

Theatre Review: Les Misérables at Queen's Theatre, London

Les MisĂ©rables, the world's longest running musical, and probably my favourite musical. It was the first 'serious' musical I saw (excluding the likes of Disney classics High School Musical and Camp Rock) and it really kickstarted my love for theatre.

My first experience of Les MisĂ©rables was in 2010, tagging along with some friends to see the 25th anniversary concert streamed live to our local cinema. Unfortunately for me, the 25th anniversary show was more of a concert than an actual musical, meaning a lot of the explanations were lost. As Les MisĂ©rables isn't always the easiest to follow at the best of times, I'll readily admit I was pretty lost by the time the interval came round. Still, that didn't matter, because the songs and the music captivated me. From the soaring score to the incredible cast, from that day on I was hooked. (And I'm still yet to find a Valjean I prefer more than Alfie Boe).

Les Miserables at the Queen's Theatre by Lorna Holland

Since then I rewatched the 25th anniversary concert DVD multiple times, watched the 2012 movie version (I am one of the few people who didn't wholeheartedly dislike Russell Crowe as Javert) and read Victor Hugo's original novel.

My first time seeing Les MisĂ©rables in person was back in 2012, when I got tickets to see it at Queen's Theatre for my 18th birthday. In short, I was blown away. The cast, the set, and of course that music, were even more impressive live. Even better, I got to see the fantastic Hadley Fraser as Javert - he remains my favourite Javert to this day.

I loved it. But being a student meant there was no way I could afford to go and see it again any time soon. However, four years on, I decided it was high time I took another visit to Queen's Theatre. So I booked tickets, and come February 3rd, I was off to London to experience it once again.

And let me tell you - it didn't disappoint!

Seeing it for a second time allowed me to really take in the details and appreciate the artistry a lot more. For such a complex story, the set is comparatively simple. Nothing is there that doesn't absolutely have to be there, so it's uncluttered, really making you focus on the action.

The music keeps the story alive

However, it's the music that has kept the story alive for so long. The songs sound so much better performed by a live orchestra, sweeping you up in the moment and making you feel the emotions of the characters. It's so difficult to pick a favourite song (I have so many from the musical as a whole) but on the night there were a few stand-out moments for me.

One was Carrie Hope Fletcher playing Thenardier's daughter Eponine. Wanting to see Carrie in this role before her run finished was a major part of deciding to go when I did. And just as well, because she was an excellent Eponine. Her rendition of On My Own was a definite highlight!

However, there was one person who really stole the show. Gavroche, the ever-cheery urchin boy who gets caught up in the revolution at the barricade. I'm not sure which of the three young actors was playing Gavroche in the performance I saw, but whoever it was, you really have to give him credit for stealing the show in such a small role with so many big names around.

Second time around, Les MisĂ©rables was just as good. I hope to be back for a third time soon!

You can find ticket information and buy tickets on the official website.

Have you seen Les MisĂ©rables? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Book Review: Chameleon Soul by Mia Hoddell

AD* | After one fateful night, Raine Wilkins’ life has never been the same…

Two years into a relationship with Formula 1 driver Teo Coates, Raine walks out of his life without offering an explanation. To shield him from horrifying events that are best kept secret, Raine breaks her own heart and the heart of the man she loves. And left with no choice, Teo is forced to abandon Raine to finish his race season.

However, Teo always wins, and losing Raine’s heart has only made him more determined to reclaim it…

Now, a year later, he’s back, and she’s his only goal. But Raine is no longer the same girl he left behind; she’s broken by the past and struggling to cope with each day. Unbearable memories have her nights plagued with fear, while her days are spent deliberately hiding away to avoid triggering full-blown panic attacks. Therefore, when Teo returns as England’s favourite driver, and demands answers, all of Raine’s careful planning is destroyed.

She is thrown into the one place she never wants to be—the spotlight.

Her newfound fame as Teo’s public girlfriend raises old dangers, and exposes her to a group who will stop at nothing to tear them apart. If Raine and Teo are to be together, they must confront their past. However, only Raine knows the truth behind what happened during that sinister night, and revealing her secrets may cause Teo to leave for good.​

If you're a regular TWG reader, you may well recognise the name Mia Hoddell. Last November I took part in the blog tour for Mia's last release, Not Enough, where I reviewed the book and interviewed Mia.

I enjoyed Not Enough, so when I was approached and asked to take part in the blog tour for Mia's new book I was happy to say yes. Chameleon Soul is the first book in the Chequered Flag series, but can still be read as a stand-alone contemporary romance novel.

Fast pace

I usually find a lot of romance can be too predictable and chick-litty - but Mia Hoddell's writing has a way of really drawing me into the story. I get drawn into the story by the fast pace and the characters, who propel the story along and make me keep reading. In fact, I read the whole book in two hours!

Recently, I've read a lot of books containing a celebrity or famous character. Usually though, the celebrity is a musician or a model, so reading about a Formula 1 world champion was actually pretty refreshing! On the surface, Teo comes across as your typical playboy racing driver (I couldn't stop myself from imagining him as a less annoying Lewis Hamilton at the start of the book). However, soon I found myself warming to Teo, and by the end my opinion of him had changed completely.

Opposites attract

Raine, by contrast, is the exact opposite. I felt Teo's frustration throughout the book as clues were left as to what happened to Raine, and I was itching to find out the details. I also thought Raine's friendship with Teo's brother Dustin was sweet. I liked the set-up for the sequel (no details announced as of the time of writing, in case you're wondering) and I'm definitely interested in getting my hands on a copy when it does come out!

However, there were a few little niggling details that stuck in the back of my mind. Without giving away any spoilers, certain scenes and events seemed a little unbelievable or far-fetched. Although only little things, they jarred me from the story, especially since it's clear Mia has done her research into all things F1 and the rest of the details were highly accurate.

However, as a whole, I still enjoyed this book. A perfect read for fans of quick, easy-to-read romance!

Rating: 3 stars.

Chameleon Soul is available to buy now.

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

Will you be reading Chameleon Soul? Let me know in the comments below!